A WORLD WITHOUT GRASS - Justin Parsons, Ontario Turfgrass Research Foundation Director April 2015 OTRF
All of us, no matter what gender, age, or walk of life we come from, benefit from turfgrass. Our lives are improved in dozens of ways, just by its very existence. Yet few of us stop and think about what those benefits are or how different our world would be without it. Most people likely associate turfgrass with the environment and although the environmental benefits are numerous, turfgrass also contributes to our economy and our communities. The purpose of this article is to highlight the extent to which this precious resource contributes to the betterment of our lives and how vital foundations like the Ontario Turfgrass Research Foundation (OTRF) are because they ensure we take care of this resource that takes care of us.
Perhaps the best way to understand the extent to which turf contributes to our environment is to picture what a world without turfgrass would be like. Surprisingly, it’s not that hard to do. All one needs to do is look back to China in the 1960’s when a proclamation was put forth that stated all symbols of capitalism must be abolished – this included grassed lawns and trees. The result was a significant increase in air and noise pollution, soil erosion and temperature. Perhaps even more of a concern was the resulting dust storms that carried microscopic organisms which encouraged the spread of human disease. The Chinese government eventually realized the disastrous consequences of their actions and, to this day, continues to spend billions of dollars to repair the environmental damage that was brought about their decision. The environmental benefits of turfgrass do not end there however. In an age where greenhouse gas emissions and excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere garners more attention than ever before, we cannot overlook the fact that turfgrass acts as a natural carbon sink, trapping this harmful gas, all the while increasing the production of oxygen. One could go on and on about how turfgrass improves air quality, reduces the need for air conditioning by providing a cooling effect, acts as a natural filter for our ground water and reduces flooding through soil stabilization. Just as with many things in life, we don’t fully appreciate the value of something until it is removed or not properly cared for.
This is the very reason the OTRF exists, to ensure the continued advancement of turfgrass through research. In fact, the OTRF, which is a registered charitable foundation, has contributed nearly $1 million dollars toward turfgrass research over the last eight years, with many interesting projects in development. For example through the University of Guelph, Dr. Manish Raizada is researching a biological control for dandelions using probiotics. Just like with human consumption, probiotics stimulate metabolism by the addition of live microorganisms that reproduce. This probiotic for weed control uses live microorganisms from corn (naturally occurring beneficial microbes) , which when applied to dandelions, acts to inhibit growth.
Over the years, the OTRF has funded many other unique projects that have helped to advance our knowledge of and our ability to promote turfgrass. The OTRF recognizes just how important this resource is to not only our environment, but also our economy and our communities at large. In Ontario, the turfgrass industry creates 33,000 jobs and contributes over $2.6 billion dollars in revenue to our economy annually. Not to mention the fact that turfgrass provides the very foundation for so many of our community activities and youth programs. From that standpoint, turfgrass contributes to a healthy lifestyle for all of us. Without local sports fields, parks and backyards, there would be no green spaces to work, live and play on.
When we take all of this into consideration we realize just how valuable a resource turfgrass really is as it contributes to the betterment of all of our lives in immeasurable ways. It is also easy to understand why associations like the OTRF exist and why it is so important to continue to support them in their efforts to fund turfgrass research. Through donations and support from industry partners the OTRF can continue to fund turfgrass research and ensure the advancement of one of our most precious resources -grass.
Erosion Control - Sodding offers immediate stabilization of the construction site thereby avoiding significant loss of soil by wind or water erosion.
Water Conservation - Sodded turf sites will require irrigation for a shorter period of time after planting than sites which are seeded.
Reduced Herbicide Use - When establishing a turf with quality sod, there should be no need for weed control for several years.
Reduced Probability Of Failure - Frequently, turf must be established on very adverse sites such as impermeable clays, steep or stony sites and poorly drained areas. Proper sodding has a much higher potential for successful stabilization of the area with turf. Risk of failure by seeding is great and may require repeat plantings.
Earlier Environmental Benefits - Sodding offers a significant range of immediate benefits which contribute to life in urban areas. These are listed more fully in the following notes, "Benefits of Turfgrass."
Soil Erosion Control - Protection of a Vital Natural Resource - Installation of turfgrass sod offers immediate superior stabilization of the installation site, thereby avoiding significant loss of a vital natural resource, our soil, by wind or water erosion.
Water Conservation - Ground Water Recharge - Flood Control - Turfgrass sod has a superior capability of trapping and holding rain water in place for ground water recharge and thereby reduces run-off and the need for more extensive flood control structures. It also enhances the moisture content of the root zone thus further reducing the need for irrigation.
Soil Enrichment - Carbon Storage - Turfgrass sod forms a very extensive fibrous root system that extends throughout the root zone in the soil. As they decay, micro-organisms form humus which was originally derived from atmospheric carbon dioxide, and thus improves soil productivity. New roots are continually developing, dying off, and decomposing.
Discourages Nuisance Pests - Mowed grass discourages rats, mice, snakes, mosquitoes, ticks and similar nuisance pests that tend to seek a more protective habitat in tall landscape plantings.
Organic Chemicals Decomposer - The turfgrass-soil-microbiological ecosystem is one of the best in its capability to degrade synthetic organic chemical pollutants that it has trapped with surface run-off water from hard surfaces.
Temperature Moderation - Turfgrass reduces temp- erature heat extremes by natural transpirational cooling. The front lawns of just 8 average houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning. The average home-size central air unit has a 3 to 4 ton capacity.
Pollutant Filter For Water Quality - Turfgrass absorbs gaseous pollutants (carbon dioxide and ozone) from the air and traps particulate matter (dust and dirt with organic chemicals) from the atmosphere.
Oxygen Releaser - The process of photosynthesis in green plants releases oxygen into the atmosphere. About 2500 square feet of lawn will release sufficient oxygen to meet the needs of a family of 4.
Pollen Allergy Control - Mowed turfgrass helps control weeds and flowering of grasses that produce pollen which cause unpleasant allergic reactions.
Noise Abatement - Glare Reduction - Turfgrass has the ability to absorb sound and reduce undesirable noise levels by 30 to 40 percent. It also produces multi-direction reflection that reduces unpleasant glare problems.
Recreational Activities - Dense, well-maintained turfgrass reduces sports injuries significantly and provides a resilient playing surface for years of healthy outdoor recreation.
Natural Beauty and Aesthetic Benefits - Turfgrass contributes to mental health, social harmony, a pleasant visual environment, and increased real estate value.
Security Zone - Fire Break - The open, mowed, green lawn provides a visual security zone to discourage unwanted intruders and also serves as a protective break against wild-fires.