11 experts discuss turf care innovations, predictions

April 23, 2019 -  By

Spring is in the air. Grass is growing, flowers are blooming, insects are hatching and the weeds are, well, they’re as pesky as always. As lawn care operators (LCOs) enter the busiest times of the year, it’s important for them to evaluate their strategies for combating lawn invaders of all types.

To address the myriad issues that can affect healthy turf growth, LCOs must have an arsenal of products they know are proven to work. We spoke with some of the makers of those products to find out how they’re working to help lawn care providers do their jobs effectively.

They told us about products they’re proud of, but most importantly, we got the scoop about what’s on the horizon for the lawn care industry as a whole. As environmental awareness and water conservation continue to be on clients’ radars and the labor market becomes tighter, how can LCOs operate in an efficient manner and how can the products they use help them do that? Read on to find out.

AQUATROLS

Eric Griscom
Product manager

Eric Griscom, Product manager, Aquatrols

RECENT INNOVATIONS: Aqueduct Flex is a new fast-acting granular that treats and prevents localized dry spots. It contains Aquatrols’ core water management technology, which is specifically designed to reduce water repellency and promote recovery from moisture stress in all turfgrass and landscape plants. Aqueduct Flex utilizes a high-quality granular carrier that releases ingredients and completely dissolves with as little as a quarter-inch of moisture. This reduces the need for access to irrigation and having to water immediately after application. The new durable and resealable packaging also makes storage and movement of unused product more convenient and secure. Whether you’re looking to spot treat problem areas, make broad preventive applications or reduce moisture stress in landscape beds, Aqueduct Flex is a versatile solution for any landscape professional.

PREDICTIONS: Water and labor issues will continue to impact the green industry, and Aquatrols is committed to developing solutions that help with both. Reducing the amount of water needed to sustainably maintain turf and landscape plantings makes sense from an environmental conservation standpoint. It also makes business sense.

BAYER

Laurence Mudge
Green Solutions Team manager

Laurence Mudge, Green Solutions Team manager, Bayer

RECENT INNOVATIONS: Bayer has been involved in the area of pollinator health for many years, and we’ve done a lot of research in insecticide development. We introduced an insecticide solution called Altus to the lawn and landscape market in October 2017, which is compatible with pollinators and has fans in the ornamental production area. It also has fans in lawn care industry because LCOs are treating various landscape plants, sometimes while they’re in the flowering stage. Altus is compatible with pollinators and effective on troublesome insects like whiteflies, aphids and lace bugs. Most lawn care companies go with a preemergent herbicide because it’s cost-effective — it’s easier to prevent weeds from coming up than attacking them strictly from a postemergent standpoint. But the lawn and landscape industry hasn’t had a lot of preemergent products come into market. Bayer was fortunate enough in 2011 to bring to market (the active ingredient) indaziflam, brand name Specticle. Specticle FLO is a broad spectrum preemergent weed control product used on warm-season turf and has a long residual. You get a little more out of it, and the net result is you have fewer repeat applications of postemergent herbicide, which can result in fewer callbacks and cancellations, which saves a lot of labor.

PREDICTIONS: The three portfolios are insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Now we feel there’s a fourth portfolio that could be really anything — water management-type products or soil amendments. There are a lot of things related to plant health beyond just pest control. How can we improve an LCO’s efficiency? Pest control, people, fertility and product application — that all goes back to labor. There’s also a lot going on in agriculture and golf course maintenance that could have a place in the turf and ornamental marketplace — GPS technology and sophisticated, automated equipment.

CORTEVA

Karan Bansal
Category leader for the turf and ornamental division at Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont

Karan Bansal, Corteva

RECENT INNOVATIONS: Pending federal registration, GameOn and Relzar specialty herbicides are going to change the game in weed control. Both of these products contain a new active ingredient called Arylex active. Arylex active is a Group 4 synthetic auxin with a different mode of action and it is the newest active ingredient in the turf market in the U.S. Relzar will simplify weed control for both warm- and cool-season turfgrasses. GameOn specialty herbicide also has our latest formulation of 2,4-D, called 2,4-D choline, that has low odor and has reduced volatility compared to the 2,4-D used in a lot of postemergent products. GameOn will provide fast-acting, systemic control of more than 100 broadleaf weeds. Arylex active is absorbed through the foliage, down to roots and shoots. We’re seeing good knockdown upfront and more complete control of the weeds. Another great aspect of these products is the application flexibility, especially with respect to hot and rainy conditions. We have also seen excellent turf safety with these products throughout the trials. Corteva is committed to bringing new innovations to the market that make life easier for lawn care professionals, and our R&D pipeline has never been more robust. We have done thorough research on these two new products — GameOn and Relzar — for the past 10 years before bringing them into the market.

PREDICTIONS: I expect the lawn care business to grow; however, the tight labor market and employee retention are going to continue to be a challenge for LCOs. The industry needs products that LCOs can easily train the labor force to use and that deliver exceptional control of several broadleaf weeds at the same time. LCOs are looking for products that provide them with application flexibility and help them reduce callbacks. They also want products that provide effective weed control throughout the season, have different modes of action to overcome resistance issues and are easy to use. There are a lot of areas throughout the U.S. that are seeing increasing restrictions around use of phenoxy products, such as 2,4-D or dicamba, and having a product option that doesn’t contain 2,4-D or dicamba will be huge for the turf market.

FMC GLOBAL SPECIALTY SOLUTIONS

Michael Sisti
Golf and lawn market manager

Michael Sisti, Golf and lawn market manager, FMC

RECENT INNOVATIONS: At FMC, we are excited to have our latest innovations, Dismiss NXT herbicide, Solitare herbicide and Fame SC fungicide serve the lawn care market. Much of the lawn and landscape industry is already familiar with Dismiss herbicide for control of yellow nutsedge and kyllinga.  Dismiss NXT builds upon that success and provides an improved tool to help lawn care operations control yellow nutsedge long term. It contains sulfentrazone and carfentrazone-ethyl, which over time help reduce tuber viability in the soil. By reducing the number of tubers in the soil, less yellow nutsedge may appear the following season. Solitare herbicide is ideal for improving lawns with thin density and constant weed outbreaks. It helps control not only yellow nutsedge, but also crabgrass, clover, dandelion and other difficult-to-control broadleaf weeds, like ground ivy. The combination of quinclorac and sulfentrazone also performs better on the midtillering growth stage of crabgrass compared to quinclorac alone. Fame fungicide offers a reliable defense against patch diseases, like brown patch, large patch and summer patch. With its rapid uptake by the turfgrass, Fame is translocated through the plant for better coverage. This provides better distribution of the product throughout the plant, which means better curative activity on specific diseases and less preventive breakthrough, which can reduce the likelihood of a costly follow-up application. An added safeguard: Fame SC is rainfast within 15 minutes.

PREDICTIONS: FMC is constantly staying abreast on the current trends in the industry. We’re innovating to provide tools LCOs can apply seamlessly to make day-to-day operations more efficient and help serve their customers in a timely manner. We’re currently exploring new active ingredients to continue to serve as a partner in the lawn care industry.

ICL SPECIALTY FERTILIZERS

Fred Hulme, Ph.D.
Technical services director

Fred Hulme, Ph.D., Technical services director, ICL Specialty Fertilizers

RECENT INNOVATION: H2Pro wetting agent contains the latest technologies to improve water use in containers for an extended period of time. This is important for hard-to-soak growing media and experimenting with new media components like wood fibers. Additionally, H2Pro can help finished plants better survive the retail environment where irrigation might be less than optimal. High root zone pH can result in chlorotic foliage due to iron deficiencies. ICL has recently introduced the Peters Excel pHLow product line to mitigate this issue. Peters Excel pHLow 21-7-7 Acid Hammer water soluble fertilizer is a great tool to lower media pH. Another product innovation is Peters Professional with Black Iron. These water-soluble formulations contain one of the strongest iron chelates available while maintaining efficiency at extremely high pH levels. Osmocote Blue Max coated aluminum sulfate provides safe, controlled-release bluing of hydrangeas with a single application.

PREDICTIONS: Fertilizers and other products need to be longer lasting and less labor intensive to make businesses profitable. Environmental awareness will continue to grow at the consumer level. Smart controlled-release fertilizers that reduce runoff, leaching and waste will begin to supplant widespread use of water-soluble and granular fertilizers. Water restrictions will only continue to increase. High-performance wetting agents that improve the spread and retention of water in the root zone and reduce the frequency of irrigation application will become increasingly important tools.

KOCH TURF & ORNAMENTAL

Eric Miltner
Research agronomist

Eric Miltner, Research agronomist, Koch Turf and Ornamental

RECENT INNOVATIONS: At Koch, we have done significant research documenting the level of nitrogen use efficiency of our products and substantiating how much turf managers can benefit from an enhanced efficiency fertilizer (EEF) compared to using unamended urea. Stabilized nitrogen (N), such as UFLEXX fertilizer, is one option. The urease inhibitor, NBPT (N-(N-Butyl) Thiophosphoric Triamide), reduces ammonia volatilization, resulting in more N available for plant uptake. Dicyandiamide, or DCD, when used in the proper amount, slows down the conversion of ammonium to nitrate in the soil, extending the time of nitrogen availability and reducing losses to leaching and denitrification. It is important to make sure the stabilized N product used has enough DCD to be effective. Slow-release fertilizers do just what the name implies: slow down the rate of nitrogen released so that availability is better matched with plant demand. Products such as XCU slow-release fertilizer can result in increased N uptake by the plant and less lost from the system. Controlled-release fertilizers such as POLYON fertilizer and DURATION CR fertilizer provide the most advanced control of nutrient release. These products can be engineered with release longevities up to six months or longer.

PREDICTIONS: One trend we are seeing, and that continues to grow, is an evolution of fertilization programs. Recently, more LCOs are innovating with programs that include only two or three fertilizer applications using controlled-release polymer-coated fertilizer. Fewer applications does not necessarily mean reducing the number of visits to a property. The time savings can be used for other revenue-generating or value-added services. Fewer fertilizer applications mean savings in time, but also freight, fuel, equipment wear, employee fatigue and other areas. Regulations and restrictions on fertilizer use are on the rise. If these regulations were to impact you, it could affect the way you do business. Enhanced efficiency fertilizers can be a solution to help address these challenges. The green industry needs to continue to present the science behind what we do, as well as the impact our businesses bring to local economies, in order to continue to bring valuable services to our customers and communities.

NUFARM

Jason Fausey
Director of technical services, T&O

Jason Fausey, Director of technical services, T&O, Nufarm

RECENT INNOVATIONS: Our newest product launch at Nufarm is Sure Power selective herbicide. Sure Power is a new postemergent herbicide that is completely unique for the cool-season turfgrass market. The first thing applicators will notice is that weeds begin showing symptoms and death within two to three days after application. In addition to being fast, Sure Power is highly effective as it controls more than 250 broadleaf weeds as well as sedges and common weedy grasses, including bentgrass, crabgrass and goosegrass. Sure Power herbicide is specially formulated to penetrate the leaves of even the most difficult-to-control weeds, such as wild violet, with a summer application. It’s important to understand this unique formulation does not require or allow surfactants, fertilizers or other pesticides to be mixed, as additional uptake can result in a temporary response to the turfgrass.

PREDICTIONS: Within the turf and landscape segments, we will continue to find weeds invading areas where they have not previously been found. Weeds that are often isolated or found in limited regions of the country such as false green kyllinga or Japanese stiltgrass are now being found throughout much of the country. Resistance is another issue we will battle in the future. It has never been more important to consider a complete weed management program to ensure you’re maximizing the use of all the available chemistries.

PBI-GORDON

Jay Young, Herbicide product manager, PBI-Gordon

Jay Young
Herbicide product manager

Jim Goodrich
Fungicide, insecticide and plant growth regulator product manager

RECENT INNOVATIONS: Vexis, containing pyrimisulfan, which is a new active ingredient to the U.S. professional market and PBI-Gordon’s first proprietary molecule, will initially be offered in a granular end-use formulation. Vexis can be applied to both wet or dry turf and will offer the professional an innovative solution for a growing sedge and kyllinga problem. SwitchBlade, which contains another new active ingredient for the U.S. professional market, halauxifen-methyl, provides the end user with a non-2,4-D broadleaf control option while demonstrating very good turf safety even on sensitive warm-season varieties. We have a new fungicide in at EPA with an expected registration in June 2019. It’s called Union Fungicide SC, and it’s a unique, proprietary combination of cyazofamid and azoxystrobin. This product was conceptualized and developed to meet the market needs of a dual mode of action fungicide offering turf managers the flexibility to apply one product, which preventively controls a variety of turf diseases typically associated with summer stress — Pythium, anthracnose, brown patch, summer patch, fairy ring, red thread and others. In late 2018, we launched the first and only liquid flutolanil product for the turf market, Pedigree Fungicide SC. Flutolanil has been around for many years as a wettable powder formulation and wasn’t an easy product for turf managers to use. Our customers using Zylam liquid systemic insecticide are treating larger areas and asked for help minimizing the environmental impact of packaging disposal. The addition of a larger package size reduces the number of bottles being consumed by our customers by a factor of four and also saves them time and money.

Jim Goodrich, Fungicide, insecticide and plant growth regulator product manager, PBI-Gordon

PREDICTIONS: We predict advancements in technology; for example, GPS is now crossing over into the LCO industry. We can see precision application becoming a real trend in the not-too-distant future. As crazy as it sounds, we are probably not too far away from watching an LCO truck pull into a neighborhood or property and unload automated spray units that communicate with a computer in the truck. Another prediction is resistance management. Resistance will become more of an issue due to the continual overuse of the same chemistries and lack of chemistry rotation. Finally, public scrutiny — continual backlash from the negative connotations of glyphosate and that our chemistries are carcinogenic — will continue. It will be a tireless effort to continue to try and educate the public on our products and the steps we as manufacturers take to ensure we produce a product that is not only effective, but also safe to people and the environment.

SYNGENTA

Matt Giese
Field technical manager

Matt Giese, Field technical manager, Syngenta

RECENT INNOVATIONS: Adigor surfactant is packaged along with Manuscript. This surfactant maximizes the performance of Manuscript and maximizes weed control based on how the active ingredient pinoxaden works in the plant. Another aspect in relation to Manuscript is that it contains a safener — which safens the desirable species but also helps control the target weed. Manuscript herbicide launched in the fourth quarter of 2018. It’s part of a new herbicide subclass for the turf market in what is called ACCase inhibitors. Manuscript is a postemergent grassy herbicide for use on turf species like zoysiagrass, Bermudagrass and St. Augustinegrass sod. It’s active against signalgrass, a serious problem in the southeastern U.S., and tropical carpetgrass. It also has activity on large and smooth crabgrass and dallisgrass, which is also difficult to control in the Transition Zone, and in the south and southeastern U.S. It fills a niche with control of those particular species.

PREDICTIONS: With a variety of weather extremes across the U.S., what does that portend for us in terms of pest pressure? We’re probably always going to have white grubs and brown patch, but what other pests might be favored with some of these extreme weather conditions, whether it’s drought or flooding? That’s relatively unknown, but it’s certainly going to play a role in how turf managers are going to address (pests) going forward. There are resources out there in order to help turf managers deal with how turfgrass pests are affected by weather extremes. (Turf managers) used to base when to make applications on a calendar basis. It’s gone from that to paying much more attention to the phenological indicators — for example, when the forsythia blooms — and also turning to models. Syngenta has a website where you can plug in your name, email address and zip code and it will send you an alert, for example, when soil temperatures in your area are getting near when crabgrass germinates.

THE ANDERSONS

Anthony Goldsby, Ph.D., Research agronomist, The Andersons

Anthony Goldsby, Ph.D.
Research agronomist

RECENT INNOVATIONS: One of the products we released last year was our 22-0-4 fertilizer containing our Humic Coated Urea (HCU) and Black Gypsum DG. This fertilizer has the limestone filler removed and replaced with our Black Gypsum DG soil amendment. Soil health improvements are achieved through the addition of humates in both Black Gypsum DG and the HCU. The benefits of integrating humates into the soil include improved cation exchange capacity, nutrient chelation, improved soil structure and aid in flushing bicarbonates through the soil profile. Another recent product innovation is our 21-22-4 starter fertilizer with the herbicide Mesotrione. In applying our 21-22-4 fertilizer with Mesotrione product, you can achieve both pre- and postemergent control of broadleaf and grassy annual weeds. The low level of active ingredient per acre (0.15 lb. A.I.) is maximized for effectiveness by our homogeneous 135 SGN granule size. This product can be safely applied to cool-season grasses, including Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. Do not use this product with seed mixes containing greater than 20 percent fine fescue. Our Turf Nutrition Tool (TNT) was reimagined and relaunched for end users in early 2019. LCOs can create custom fertility programs for their customers. It is accessible from any type of device and features many of our premium and professional fertility products. Another bonus: This program is free. Just sign up at TurfNutritionTool.com and create an account.

PREDICTIONS: The freight cost of shipping materials like fertilizers is and will continue to be a challenge. Most of the products manufactured and sold through distributors to LCOs spend at least a portion of their journey on a semitrailer. Finding new and unique ways to innovate products and subsequently drive down shipping costs will be important. The green industry is also going to continue to see increased regulation and mandates relating to the application of fertilizer products. Therefore, providing options that utilize organic or enhanced efficiency nutrients will need to be a focus for fertilizer. This will also take a shift in mentality from the current turfgrass management practices, with more focus being placed on products that increase nutritional efficiency in the soil, like humates.

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