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Commercial turf production – farm requirements

By | February 4, 2013 at 10:27 am | No comments | Provisioning

The site and soil

Farm sizes vary from a few hectares to hundreds of hectares. The average turf farm size in Queensland is 16-17 hectares. Small farms Australia-wide average 9.6 hectares and medium-sized farms 37.7 hectares (Aldous et al., 2007).

The land must be able to be levelled to create a plane surface for harvesting equipment. Flat or gently rolling land is suitable, particularly when it has deep sandy loam or clay loam soils. Heavy clay and stony soils are unsuitable. Sandy soils may be suitable if organic amendments are added to improve water-holding capacity and sod strength at harvest. The optimum soil pH is 6.0-6.5.

Good soil depth is essential for sustainable production. At each harvest, a small amount of soil and organic material (about 1 cm) is taken.

Turf is often grown on river flats; however, most turf will not survive anything other than transitory flooding. Weeds on such sites (e.g. nutgrass and giant rat’s tail grass) are a potential problem and must be eradicated completely before the first crop is planted. Left untreated, such weeds are not only a production problem, but also spread to the customer as well.

Climate

While many turf cultivars can tolerate ground frosts, the tolerances need to be checked for each cultivar. Sites subject to frosts and colder hollows will have slower growth, increasing the turnaround time and reducing profitability, even with cold-tolerant cultivars.

Irrigation

Turf grass has a very limited root zone, so accurate and timely soil moisture management is critical. Multiple irrigation applications per day may be needed, especially when establishing turf. Access to a reliable supply of good-quality water is critical for most turf varieties. The average amount of water applied in Australia is 6.5 ML per hectare per annum, but actual figures will vary depending on the species used, crop stage, incident rainfall and evaporation rates. Efficiencies can be achieved with good irrigation design and by tailoring watering to the soil conditions and crop requirements. The water requirement is highest during grow-in phases of the crop and during hot, dry periods.

Community

Turf farms are often located in semi-urban areas, adjacent to residential areas or areas that may be earmarked for residential development. Farmers have to contend with issues raised by neighbours, such as noise made by pumping equipment and machinery operation, and dust and odour control (e.g. where composted manures are in use). This can cause significant disruption to business. Factor in a buffer zone around the farm to separate the business from the neighbours.

Environmental issues

Turf farms are often located adjacent to watercourses. Provision must be made for a vegetative buffer zone between the farm and these waterways.

Production needs to be managed to prevent fertiliser and chemicals from entering surface and subsurface water. Composted animal litter is commonly used to provide nutrients and to bulk up the soil following harvest. Ideally, litter piles need to be stored on bunded concrete slabs to prevent the contamination of run-off water, following rainfall. A sequence of containment dams may be required to prevent run-off into environmentally sensitive waterways and riparian areas.

A Turf Accreditation Process (TAP) has been developed for turf producers. The process is voluntary and independently audited, with a focus on best management practices for business and environmental sustainability.

Glossary

Sod: grass and part of the soil held together by grass roots; harvested product from turf farms, seen as rolls or mats

References

These are only a small selection of the publications available.

Aldous, DE, Haydu, JJ and Satterthwaite LN 2007, ‘Economic analysis of the Australian turfgrass industry’, Project TU06004, Horticulture Australia Limited.

Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation 2009, Prospects for Queensland’s Primary Industries 2009-2010, Queensland Government, Brisbane.

Beard, JB 1973, ‘Turfgrass: Science and culture’, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

Handreck, KA and Black, ND 2002, ‘Growing media for ornamental plants and turf’, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.

Spencer, J 2002, ‘The definitive guide to Australian turfgrass pesticide management’, Glenvale Publications, Melbourne.

Turgeon, AJ 2008, ‘Turfgrass management’, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

Other organisations

 

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