Effective Nitrogen Management
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Effective Nitrogen Management
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Posted on Monday, May 6, 2019

How developing efficient fertilizer programs can position superintendents as environmental stewards

Today, fertilizer regulations are becoming more prevalent throughout the United States. While many areas aren’t yet affected by fertilizer use restrictions, there’s every possibility that they could be in the future. And, those restrictions could certainly impact the way golf course superintendents manage their agronomic programs.

“The golf industry, in many areas, has taken a proactive stance by establishing best management practices (BMPs) that provide guidelines for using fertilizers and other agronomic inputs wisely,” says Eric Miltner, Ph.D., research agronomist for Koch Turf & Ornamental (Koch). “However, to truly understand how to work with fertilizer and effectively communicate about it with golf course management and members, it’s important to understand the interaction between soil, turf and nitrogen. If you can present the science behind what you do as a superintendent, you can also educate your community about your role as an environmental steward.”

Turf and nitrogen

Nitrogen (N) is the fertilizer nutrient needed in the greatest amount by turf. It is a critical component of amino acids, proteins, enzymes, nucleic acids and chlorophyll. The soil can provide some of the N that plants need, but rarely all of it. The balance then needs to come from supplemental fertilization.

N is taken up from the soil as either ammonium (NH4+) or nitrate (NO3-). Regardless of the type of fertilizer applied, it must first be converted to one of these forms. Both are highly soluble, and therefore potentially mobile. Ammonium can be temporarily held on negatively charged soil exchange sites (CEC), but nitrate is not attracted to these sites and so is highly susceptible to leaching or runoff if there is excess soil moisture.

“When there is more soluble N in the soil than the turf can use, the risk for N loss is increased,” Miltner explains. “For all these reasons, superintendents must manage N carefully to provide adequate plant nutrition while minimizing the risk of off-site movement.”

An enhanced efficiency alternative

Superintendents have two primary ways to manage N on their courses. The first is spoon-feeding small doses of N on a frequent basis, increasing the likelihood that the turf will take it up before it can be lost elsewhere. However, this can be a tedious and labor-intensive process. The second option is to use more advanced fertilizer technology.

“We all know that fertilizers help golf course turf look and play its best,” Miltner adds. “And over the years, advances in technology have led to products that can really help superintendents manage those nutrients effectively, economically and responsibly.”

Koch produces enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEFs) that can help golf courses reduce nutrient losses due to runoff, leaching, denitrification or volatilization. Stabilized, slow-release, and controlled-release N sources extend the amount of time that N resides in the turfgrass environment, increasing plant uptake and reducing off-site movement.

Numerous research studies have shown that these technologies reduce N loss, thereby providing environmental advantages. By incorporating EEFs into their agronomic programs, superintendents can ensure their courses are getting the nutrients they need while still being a responsible environmental steward. Plus, the more efficient nutrient use can help provide needed nutrition in locations where application rates may be restricted by regulations.

“An EEF can provide dependable performance, even across the different types of conditions present on golf courses,” Miltner says. “EEFs can help superintendents deliver the quick turf green-up and sustained health and color that course managers and patrons expect. Because EEFs can feed turf for extended periods of time, turf managers can get a better return on their fertilizer investments. When superintendents add up all the advantages, they can feel good about their fertilizer programs and their roles as environmental stewards.”

Miltner goes on to say that people from all walks of life recognize that golf course superintendents have a tremendous amount of agronomic knowledge, and that poses superintendents with a valuable opportunity to speak up on behalf of their industry.

“It’s important for superintendents to communicate back to their communities. By and large, golf course superintendents are managing nutrients responsibly. Tools like regular soil sampling and utilizing the available advanced fertilizer technologies can help back that up when spreading the word to your stakeholders.”

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