New N.C. State University center to study environmental issues related to turfgrass
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New N.C. State University center
to study environmental issues
related to turfgrass

N.C. State's Doak Baseball Field is just one grassy place that could benefit from the work of Rufty, Yelverton, Brandenburg (left to right) and others at the new research and education center.  (Photo by Herman Lankford)


Finding better, more environmentally friendly ways of managing North Carolina’s 2.2 million acres of turfgrass: That’s the goal of a new N.C. State University research and education center.

Through the Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research and Education, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences hopes to find out more about how water quality is affected by pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals used to make lawns, golf-course greens, athletic fields and other grassy areas healthy. College scientists also plan to develop new ways to manage insects, weeds and diseases in ways that enhance the environment.

The center was established in December, after the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill providing $600,000 for environmental research and educational programs related to turfgrass. The funds will come from taxes on the sale of fertilizer and seed to people who aren’t farmers. Such sales had previously been exempt from the sales tax.

The center directors are Dr. Rick Brandenburg, professor of entomology; Dr. Tom Rufty, professor of crop science; and Dr. Fred Yelverton, an associate professor of crop science. Brandenburg and Yelverton also are specialists with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

They will be working with their colleagues in a number of other disciplines — economics, plant pathology and soil science, among them — to consider the environmental effects of turfgrass in a number of settings.

While 60 percent of North Carolina’s turfgrass is in home lawns, it is also an important component of roadsides, parks and recreational facilities, commercial properties, churches, schools, airports and cemeteries.

Golf courses, athletic fields, sod farms, lawn-care companies, grounds-management firms, garden centers and equipment suppliers all depend on turfgrass. Such turfgrass industries are estimated to be worth more than $3.8 billion a year to North Carolina.

But keeping turfgrass and related industries healthy is a challenge in North Carolina. Because most turf species grown in the Southeastern United States aren’t native, they can be overtaken by natural vegetation if they aren’t managed intensively, says Yelverton, a weed expert. Pesticides and fertilizers are often used to keep turfgrass healthy.

While scientists have in recent decades conducted extensive studies on how such chemicals affect the environment when they are used on agricultural crops, less is known about what happens when they are used on turfgrass.

“You need to keep in mind that turfgrass is grown on 2.2 million acres in North Carolina, and that’s much more than any other single commodity,” Yelverton says. The most widely grown crop, soybeans, occupies 1.3 million acres, and cotton is next at 800,000.

“The turfgrass industry is clearly significant to the state’s economy, and we want to make sure that it remains strong,” he says. “To do so, we need alternative strategies for managing turfgrass systems in ways that enhance the environment, and that’s what the center’s work is all about.”

—Dee Shore


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