Whether you enjoy kicking a ball about on a sportsground, or prefer a round of golf, you need grass that stays in tip-top condition. That’s the challenge for groundsmen. Chemical herbicides, pesticides and insecticides help them, but these have a negative effect on the quality of the soil, the water and on public health. Those involved in the Dutch ‘turf grass sector’, as it’s referred to, recently signed the Green Deal for Sports Fields Without Crop Protection : by 2020, the sports sector may no longer use chemical herbicides, pesticides and insecticides.
Long-term research programme
Considerable research is being carried out into alternatives, including by students at the HAS University of Applied Sciences. The institution has set up a long-term research programme with
De Enk Groen & Golf, an important pioneer in the sector. There are currently 4 final-year projects being undertaken by students, partially subsidised by the Dutch Centre of Expertise Open Cultivation. The aim for all the assignments is clear: proposing and assessing alternative methods and means with a practical application, to ensure that the use of chemicals in the ‘turf grass sector’ can be eliminated.
5 study programmes working together
Working on the assignments are students from no fewer than 5 study programmes. They hope to come up with chemical-free methods to prevent and combat weeds, diseases and pests. These include methods to better regulate moisture measurements and watering, to reduce the potential fungi that grow, as well as tools to better manage the upkeep and maintenance digitally. Innovative methods from precision farming and horticulture play an important role here too.
Input from various domains
Lecturer Sjaak Groen is overseeing the projects on behalf of HAS University of Applied Sciences. “There is no specialisation at HAS University of Applied Sciences where so many disciplines come together,” he says. “Turf grass management requires input from various domains and that’s why several study programmes at the HAS play a role in the research. There are currently 6 study programmes involved in the projects and training programmes for professionals in the field: Horticulture & Arable Farming and Animal Husbandry & Animal Care, working with plant physiology, soil and fertilisation; Spatial & Environmental Planning, with upkeep and maintenance; Geo Media & Design with data management and dashboard design; and Applied Biology with applied research. And, because sport is business: Business Management in Agriculture & Food is focussing, for example, on image research within the sector.”
The research programme also has several benefits for De Enk Groen & Golf. “When the students are working on their project here, they really work from within our company,” Arthur Berends from De Enk Groen & Golf explains. “They learn our processes. This helps them work towards realising the aims and so achieves better results. De Enk Groen & Golf is a pioneer when it comes to innovation. The students can help speed this up even further. For example, we were able to implement our robot fertiliser spreader sooner because the students knew exactly how it needed to be implemented. At the moment, we fertilise all the fairways of the 23 golf courses managed by De Enk Groen & Golf with this fertiliser spreader. The head green keeper can set the robot in such a way that it spreads the exact amount of fertiliser on the correct spot and surface, and measures exactly what the grass needs at the same time.”
The odd one out
Beyond the current research programme, Sjaak sees many more possibilities for the future: “HAS University of Applied Sciences is an authority when it comes to turf grass management. It is a bit of an odd one out at the institution. As a niche specialisation, it doesn’t really belong anywhere. That makes it vulnerable on the one hand, because it isn’t always popular within the study programme. But, on the other hand, it makes the possibilities endless. Think of research into new lighting techniques for stadiums, for example, or providing healthier food in the sports canteen. There are numerous innovative cross-overs that can be made.”
We want to be pioneers
The collaboration with De Enk Groen & Golf has been going on for many years and is based on the fact that both HAS and De Enk want to be pioneers in using developments in sport fields and golf course management. “We have a positive critical partnership, which is why it continues to grow: a win-win situation for both the company and the educational institution,” says Arthur. “Thanks to the years of collaboration, we know each another well, and that’s why we can allow ourselves to be critical when it comes to progress and content.” The partnership extends beyond just setting up and carrying out projects. Sjaak: “De Enk follows in-company courses given by HAS, for example in the field of Precision Turfgrass Management. It offers their employees opportunities to increase their specific knowledge and encourages them to be innovative.”
Developing study programmes
He continues: “HAS University of Applied Sciences has been offering various study programmes in sports field and golf course management for the past 15 years. These include Natural Grass Expert, Head Green Keeper and Assistant Head Green Keeper. We have been involved in the development of the study programmes since 2000. Back then, the courses were all written with just a few days of practical work. And the need arose for similar classroom-based courses.”
Sjaak has over 30 years’ experience when it comes to turfgrass management and is a key figure when it comes to projects and company training. “I bring all the disciplines together and I love to see how so many people can apply their passion. I can also see this with the current final-year projects: the students cover all aspects of the - literal - playing field.”
Sjaak sees a bright future for professionals who work maintaining sports fields and golf courses. “Sport is becoming more important when it comes to health in society, not forgetting the social aspect too. Furthermore, golf is becoming more of a sport for the general public. Sports fields and golf courses are a part of our living environment and golf courses in particular are play an increasing role of our natural living environment. It isn’t just about managing the grass, but also about developing and maintaining our natural and cultural history. It’s a complete story that we as HAS can also contribute to.”
https://deenkgroenengolf.nl/ (In Dutch)