Assess and Map Your Soils

Assessing soil health is a critical aspect of best management practices implementation, as underscored in the BMP statement:

Determine accurate supplemental nutrient needs based on soil chemical and physical analysis. On sand-based areas, consider foliar testing as a diagnostic tool.

The soil on your property has enormous environmental, and ultimately, economic value. You cannot implement a fully aligned BMP program until soils are properly assessed. Soil health, by definition, includes the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil. Management efforts typically focus primarily on maximizing the parameters in each of these categories for agricultural crop production. However,targets for these soil health measurements are becoming clearer, which will assist superintendents in growing healthy, dense turf.

To begin a soil health assessment, start with the Web Soil Survey. UW-Madison Professor Doug Soldat published a great article in 2015 outlining the importance and practical use of the Web Soil Survey tool: https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm. Here’s my favorite quote from the article:

The Web Soil Survey is a powerful tool that has many applications for site assessment and planning. The maps can be a powerful communication tool to explain to your golfers, parents, customers, board members, or supervisors about the challenges of growing turf on your site.”

Soil survey maps provide excellent information for your records to justify certain needs or assist in diagnosing problems. Of course, they can also be used to target soil samples from areas with known soil type differences to develop a more practical map that includes additional physical, and some chemical, properties. Knowing these properties is critical to assessing water quality risks from nutrient applications (e.g. potential for leaching), to determining the need for nutrient applications and to interpreting overall soil health.

Of course, more detailed chemical and physical analyses based on laboratory results are useful on large managed turf areas such as fairways and roughs, where large scale nutrient applications are made and greater risk to water quality (e.g. runoff or leaching) exists. Currently, the level of interpretation and practical value of chemical and biological tests is limited. However, it is important to know the physical properties, drainage class, and pH of soils on your entire property that are managed in some way, from native areas to putting surfaces. Therefore, consider the following incremental approach to BMP implementation when developing a nutrient management program:

A good practice is to assess the chemical and physical analysis of your regularly fertilized soils using a Minimum Level for Sustainable Nutrition (MLSN) Guideline interpretation, as well as looking at overall turf quality and growth, when developing a nutrient management program. Make accurate supplemental nutrient applications to targeted areas of established need.

A better practice is to use the Web Soil Survey as a guide to classify and sample all soils on the property using the MLSN interpretation and performance variables (quality and growth). Make supplemental applications of nutrients based on large-scale mapping in targeted areas of well-established needs.

The best practice would be to implement the above Web Soil Survey-driven sampling program and use appropriate interpretation and performance variables as layers in a GIS database built from the sampling locations. Use this GIS database of soil properties for GPS-based Variable Rate Application equipment for precise supplemental nutrient applications to targeted areas of well-established need.

“Finding the Baseline”: A Simple Approach to Water Quality Monitoring

As winter fades and the Spring rains arrive, a significant amount of water will flow along the surfaces of our golf courses and into wetlands, streams, rivers, lakes, and the spectacular estuaries of Long Island. In fact, New York State is associated with more than 15 individual watersheds (see inset to find your watershed).

In some parts of the world, regulatory agencies can impose strict water quality reporting requirements on land managers. In fact, strict water quality reporting has been considered within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the Susquehanna River Watershed, and is undoubtedly of interest to those involved in the various initiatives for nutrients and pesticides on Long Island.

As good land managers, it is vital that we understand any potential impact we could have on our local water bodies, and if possible, the groundwater below the land we manage. A good place to begin might be to test the water that passes through the golf course during the spring rainy period. In fact, one of the “Getting Started BMPs” states “Assess current surface and groundwater quality.”

Establishing baseline data is critical for representative water bodies and water sources that may be impacted by golf course operations. Baseline tests should be conducted 4x/year for the first year and should be taken from the same locations every time to ensure consistency.

The first step is to identify two sampling locations for testing flowing surface water ( creek/stream/river): one location where the water enters the property and the second where the water exits. The sample should not be collected directly from the side of the waterbody as sediment can contaminate the sample. If you must collect water near the edge of a water body, use a dipper or other type of extension to take the sample away from the shoreline. To collect the sample, use clean plastic containers that will hold at least a 100 ml and with lids that make a tight seal. Rinse the bottle (including the lid) several times with the water to be tested. Fill the sample bottle completely and eliminate all head space (no air space). Be sure the lid is tight so that samples do not leak during transit.
If possible, collect and ship samples to the laboratory on the same day. The same laboratory you already use for soil testing may offer water quality testing services as well. A basic analysis will include results for at least pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and specific conductivity.

Two sample submissions collected four times in the first year might require about four total labor hours for collecting samples and sending out for analysis. Lab fees for basic analysis for the baseline data should be a couple of hundred dollars. More information on this BMP is available at http://nysgolfbmp.cals.cornell.edu/water-quality-monitoring/.

Calling all NYS Superintendents

Since publication of the New York State Best Management Practices for Golf in 2014, the BMP committee (now formalized as the New York Golf Course Foundation) has focused on outreach and education to promote the acceptance and implementation of BMPs. As part of these efforts, the state’s golf course professionals were surveyed two years ago to conduct both a formative assessment of BMP concepts and a survey of BMPs as implemented on NYS golf courses. Cornell University researchers analyzed the results and used the information to develop a plan to direct education and outreach efforts.

With funding provided by a Turf Environmental Stewardship Fund grant, the New York State Golf Foundation has updated the survey questions and is reintroducing the online BMP quiz and survey. This effort is designed to achieve several goals:

  • To provide verifiable evidence for NYS regulatory agencies that a majority of New York State golf course superintendents are utilizing the BMP information.
  • To assist superintendents in identifying areas for potential improvement in their golf course management operations.
  • To encourage the use of the NYS BMP materials by identifying which topics are of greatest relevance.
  • To raise awareness of the importance for superintendents to participate in the BMP project.

The foundation is asking for widespread participation in this effort. Therefore, golf turf professionals are asked to take the quiz and survey by March 30, 2018, on any internet-connected device. The quiz should be taken first, followed by the survey. Neither must be completed in one sitting, as all completed questions will be stored by IP address. Links to the quiz and survey are as follows:

Quiz: https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_74lNKzMfRichgDX

Survey: https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0UIJ2xZYzptqZ4p

Wash Pad Demonstruction – Final Construction Activities

Construction on the wash pad prototype demonstration at Locust Hill Country Club is in the final construction stages (see the blog post describing the project and the blog post on mid-construction activities).

Below are photos showing the testing of the last component of the system, the booster pump, and construction of a level pad next to the existing wash pad for the equipment to be placed on. The booster pump will take water from the supply tank and pump it into the hoses used to clean equipment. As part of this process, the operating pressure and GPM were measured and determined to be within range engineered for the system.

Wash Pad Demonstration @ Locust Hill

Following the publication and launch of the NYS BMP website, an extensive survey of superintendents in the state was conducted to assess level of competency regarding BMPs and existing alignment of properties with established BMPs. The survey suggested priority areas for our education and outreach efforts, including maintenance facilities and organic- and chemical-waste management and containment. For example, the need for affordable equipment-washing solutions was obvious as well as observations during course visits in NY State.

To address this need, we have initiated a demonstration project on equipment wash pads in partnership with the Locust Hill Country Club in Rochester, Cornell University, the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), and the University of Buffalo. Prior to the demonstration, Superintendent Rick Slattery worked with RIT on a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)-funded feasibility study that collected baseline information for the design of a new wash pad system, as summarized in our case study.

Locus Hill Country Club is a perfect site for this demonstration project for two reasons: the commitment of Superintendent Slattery to environmental stewardship and a real-world issue that needs to be addressed. Slattery has been nationally recognized for his commitment and has been awarded the NYSDEC Environmental Leaders award. He has also shepherded Locust Hill through the Audubon International certification process to achieve Certified Cooperative Sanctuary status.

The real world issue addressed in the demonstration project is the volume of wash water generated by Locust Hill. Being located at the edge of the suburban-rural divide, houses surround the Locust Hill course. Proximity to the equipment wash pad drainage area resulted in adjacent homeowner’s complaints of odors from the discharge. Because functionally organic debris (clippings, leaves, etc.) was already strained from the wash water, addressing the amount of water being used in washing operations is the solution to eliminating odor issues

This demonstration project is utilizing the feasibility study results for the design of an affordable equipment wash pad system that is estimated to reduce water use by up to 90%. Funded by a Turf Environmental Stewardship Fund grant, a prototype wash pad system is being built and its performance will be documented.

While construction is under way, Locust Hill staff are already implementing two of the feasibility study recommendations: blowing off clippings before washing and using low-flow nozzles to significantly reduce water use. Construction of the new wash pad system should be complete by the end of this summer. A Cornell University case study, project report, and conference presentations will follow to provide detailed information useful to superintendents across the state.

The slide show below depicts the wash pad operations prior to the development of a prototype wash pad that will dramatically reduce water usage. We will provide a mid-construction update on this blog later this year.

Dollar Spot

Dollar spot, caused by the pathogen Sclerotinia homoeocarpa, is a common golf course disease in New York State. Besides using chemical controls, managers can plan to lessen disease incidence and severity with the following activities:

  • Plant resistant cultivars of creeping bentgrass such as Memorial and Declaration.
  • Minimize moisture stress and leaf wetness.
  • Remove morning dew as early as possible.
  • Roll putting greens three or more times per week.
  • Apply biological organisms known to suppress dollar spot such as Bacillus licheniformis, Bacillus subtilis, and Pseudomonas aureofaciens.
  • Use horticultural oils (Civitas), labeled for the intended use both for treated area and pest, instead of or in conjunction with traditional fungicides.

Seasonal Variations in Runoff Potential

Water enters hydrologic systems as precipitation, primarily in the form of rainfall or snowmelt. It is then delivered to surface waters from runoff or infiltrates into the subsurface. The amount of water that infiltrates into the ground versus becoming runoff depends on a number of variables, including the intensity of precipitation or irrigation, soil infiltration capacity, site characteristics, antecedent soil moisture, and season. The following are some of the seasonal changes in runoff versus infiltration potential:

During the winter, soils in New York are likely to be frozen and impermeable to water. Snowmelt, rain, and low evapotranspiration rates in the spring generate wet soil conditions and downward movement of water to groundwater. The potential for runoff is high because the near-saturated or partially frozen soils have low water infiltration capacities.

During the summer, high rates of evaporation and plant water uptake may reduce soil water storage, leaving none to percolate downward. Summer rains only partially recharge the soil profile, and the soil’s moisture holding capacity is typically not exceeded. Except for high-intensity thunderstorms, runoff and erosion potentials are generally low during the summer.

In the late fall, evapotranspiration rates decrease, and groundwater recharge occurs when the moisture-holding capacity of the soil is exceeded. Runoff and erosion potentials also increase during this period. However, in New York, runoff from turf most often occurs from wet soils and not from high rainfall intensity.