The case against using turf fungicides preventatively.
Case 1: I am a heavy smoker, I smoke 20 cigarettes a day and weigh over 120kg with a BMI of 38. I don’t do any exercise. My favourite food is burgers and fries. As I am in the high-risk bracket for cardiovascular disease and cancer. I take anti-cancer drugs regularly and also take medication to reduce my blood pressure.
Case 2: I do not smoke. I exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. My BMI is 19.5.
Which of the above is a sensible health approach and how can this be related to the turf industry and in particular disease management?
There are no prizes for guessing that Case 2 is the answer when it comes to a longer life with a reduced likelihood of disease and its associated complications. A recent article stated – ‘Most of us believe that we are outperforming our great-grandparents in terms of longevity because we have supposedly added another decade of life expectancy to the average age of passing, but this may not be the case. This extra decade that we are now “enjoying” invariably involves a variety of care and pharmaceutical props to keep us going, and if “health is happiness” then we may not be doing as well as we are told. If we look at the number of centenarians per 100,000 people, there were more people achieving this ripe old age in 1900 than there are today.
Turf fungicides: Prevention vs cure.
The turf industry has the approach of ‘’prevention is better than cure’’. This appears to have been driven by a combination of chemical manufacturers and suppliers. There are three issues with this.
Firstly, would you pump antibiotics or other medications into your system on the off chance that you might get an infection? There are plenty of excellent predictive models or means of identifying turf disease without having to plaster chemicals around. Failing this there are plenty of turf chemicals that have a rapid knockdown of turf disease without the need to preventatively spray. In recent years there has even been a movement to developing long lasting curative and preventative fungicides such as Lexicon Intrinsic.
Secondly, if prevention is better than cure surely the starting point for this is the health and nutrition of the plant rather than a blind reliance on turf fungicides? In the same way, a balanced diet reduces the likelihood of disease, feeding turf properly will do likewise. The turf industry appears to have forgotten this due to chemical companies (in the same way as pharmaceutical companies do) drumming into us that this is the sensible approach to take regardless of any potential side effects.
Thirdly are the side effects. Many turf fungicides have unwanted (non-target) impacts that can lead to other issues developing. For example, the effects on beneficial organisms or an unexpected growth regulatory effect.
In a 2013 article by Harold Winter, he states…’’ Illness does not occur with 100% certainty, but instead with some probability’’… and this holds for turf management. In reality, the aim must not be chemical application but instead a combination of cultural practices and getting your plant health and nutrition right!
This situation is not peculiar to the turf industry. The same situation exists in mainstream agriculture where we are now totally reliant on chemical fertilizers and crop protection chemicals to grow food. Indirectly this relaince has I believe lead to an increase in the use of biostimulant use in turf.
Identifying why areas suffer from stress means you are better able to manage them.
In conclusion, yes prevention is better than cure, but the basis of any preventative programme has got to be your cultural practices and maintaining soil and plant health. Get these right and the likelihood of disease and pest infestation occurring is reduced significantly. The bottom line is the more healthy a plant the less likely it is to have a disease.
Tips to Prevent Fungal Diseases.
1. Irrigate as needed not as a habit (do not overwater!)
2. Reduce shade.
3. Maintain airflow.
4. Manage your nutrition accordingly. For example, dollar spot is a low fertility disease, and Pythium sp the opposite.
5. If adopting a preventative fungicide programme select the appropriate one for the job. They do not all achieve the same results or work the same way.
6. Make fungicides part of the solution not the basis of any program.
Graduated from Newcastle University with an Hons Degree in Soil Science in 1988, Jerry then worked for the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) as a turf agronomist before emigrating to Australia in 1993.
He followed this by gaining a Grad Dip in Business Management from UTS. He has worked in a number of management roles for companies as diverse as Samsung Australia, Arthur Yates and Paton Fertilizers.
He has always had a strong affinity with the Australian sports turf industry and as a result he established Gilba Solutions as an independent sports turf consultancy in 1993. Jerry has written over 100 articles and two books on a wide range of topics such as Turf Pesticides and Nutrition which have been published in Australia and overseas.