Turf management in Australia is at the forefront of a new era of sustainability and technology. With a growing focus on cost-effectiveness and environmental responsibility, the future of turf management is rapidly evolving.
The need for qualified and skilled turf management professionals was identified as a priority skill area in the 2018-2021 Agriculture, Horticulture, Conservation and Land Management IRC Skills Forecast and Proposed Schedule of Work (see pages 88 – 90) 
In this article, we’ll explain where the industry is focusing, and what we’re likely to see in the near and distant future of turf management in Australia.
Companies and Organisations Leading the Way
Turf Australia is an industry organisation with the mission to support its members and lead a sustainable natural turfgrass industry through communication and advocacy. They aim to ensure the turf industry is valued by the Australian community, regulators, and special interest groups . Members of the organisation are leading this industry into the 21st century through advocating for continued professional development and representing the industry as a body.
- Automated mowers (like this one from Husqvarna) are disrupting the turf industry. Image source
Companies like Lawn Solutions Australia (LSA) are also working towards ensuring that Australians have access to the most beautiful and low maintenance turf varieties in the country. They’re developing new turf varieties through decades of rigorous scientific testing .
LSA also has an excellent resource outlining research being conducted to provide measurable evidence of the health benefits of green spaces and the minimum amount of local green space required for favorable health and societal outcomes. Check it out here .
In the face of new rules, new technology, and new challenges, the Sports Turf Management Conference and the Australian Sports Turf Management Association aim to provide the entire golf and sports turf industry with the knowledge and tools needed to overcome future challenges .
There’s a trend revolving around lawn-free gardens which you might’ve seen on social media. No, this isn’t talking about artificial turf, which seems to get much more scorn on the web amongst plant-lovers. The lawn-free trend is all about converting turfed areas into garden beds serving as habitat for birds, insects and other animals. Instead of mowing every couple of weeks, you can simply prune a couple of times when necessary. Other than that, a bit of irrigation, a bit of organic fertiliser now, and then and replacing mulch when it runs low is all you need to do, as long as you’ve set the garden up correctly in the first place, of course.
Even though it receives scorn on social media from the masses of garden enthusiasts, artificial turf is getting much better, with new varieties that can trick gardening enthusiasts from a distance into thinking it’s real turf. They’ll never provide the same benefits as real turf, but they certainly have their place, especially indoors or on certain kinds of sporting fields.
We can talk about how artificial turf is low maintenance, but you’ll eventually get weeds popping through which look ugly after you spray them with herbicides, and the leaves will also collect without breaking down like they do when you mulch mow them into living turf.
It’s also not a very environmentally-friendly option, either, when you take into account the carbon used to produce the plastic, the micro plastics released into the environment, and the inability to sequester carbon or reduce heat island effects.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to talking about turf.
Advancements in Turf
As the industry advances, and consumers become more discerning, turf breeders are innovating to create the best turf varieties that they can. Machinery manufacturers are also innovating in the space. Here are some advancements we have to look forward to in Australia and globally:
- Water conservation: With growing concerns about water scarcity, turf managers are focusing on developing and implementing more water-efficient methods of maintaining natural grass. This includes growing and breeding drought-resistant grass species, efficient irrigation systems, and other technologies to minimise water usage.
- Precision agriculture: The use of precision agriculture techniques, such as drone-based mapping and monitoring, will likely become more widespread in turf management. These techniques can help turf managers better understand the health and growth patterns of their grass, allowing them to make more informed decisions about maintenance and management.
- Sustainable turf management: There’s a growing trend towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly turf management practices. This includes the use of organic fertilisers, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and the promotion of biodiversity in turf ecosystems.
- Advanced soil management: As our understanding of soil science continues to improve, turf managers are developing new and more effective methods of managing soil health and fertility, which will in turn lead to healthier and more resilient grasses.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning: The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in turf management is likely to increase in the future, as these technologies can help turf managers make more informed and data-driven decisions about maintenance and management. This includes automated mowers and irrigation systems.
Warm-Season vs Cool-Season Grass Types
Before we go on, we need to quickly address the difference between the two major types of grass which have evolved in nature.
Cool-season plants (a.k.a. C3 plants), such as rye grass, bluegrass, and fescue, use a simple photosynthetic process in which carbon dioxide (CO2) is fixed into a 3-carbon molecule, leading to the creation of energy. This process is less efficient in hot and arid conditions and results in higher water requirements.
Warm-Season plants (a.k.a. C4 plants), such as couch grass, buffalo grass, kikuyu grass, zoysia grass, saint augustine grass, and Santa Ana grass, use a more complex photosynthetic process that involves the creation of a 4-carbon molecule, which helps to conserve water and improve efficiency in hot and arid conditions. C4 grasses are therefore better adapted to warmer climates and require less water than C3 grasses.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand this bit! Just remember that C3 plants are cool-season, and C4 plants are warm-season.
It’s important to note that the specific habits of C3 and C4 grasses can vary depending on the specific species of grass, local climate, and soil type. A good lawn can contain both types of grass to keep it lush year-round.
Popular Turf Varieties in Australia
Grass isn’t grass, in case you haven’t already figured that out! Here are some of the most common turf varieties in Australia, and their particular benefits:
- Couch grass: Couch grass is a popular warm-season turf type in Australia due to its tolerance of heat, drought, and heavy foot traffic. It has a dense, fine-textured appearance and is a good choice for sports fields, parks, and high-use lawns. It makes for a great lawn, but it can be a horrible weed when it escapes into your veggie patch or the local national park. Green couch, QLD blue couch, and Nullabor couch are all examples of couch varieties.
- Buffalo grass: Buffalo grass is a warm-season grass that’s native to Australia and is known for its low water requirements and ability to thrive in hot, dry climates. It has a dense, cushion-like appearance and is a good choice for low-maintenance lawns and landscaping. This includes Sir Walter, which is decidedly not low-maintenance in a well-irrigated Brisbane backyard in summer, especially if you’ve left it too long and your mower isn’t very powerful, due to the thick growth habit.
- Kikuyu grass: Kikuyu grass is a fast-growing warm-season grass that’s native to Africa but has become popular in Australia for its ability to thrive in a wide range of climates and soils. It’s a good choice for sports fields, parks, and residential lawns due to its ability to tolerate heavy foot traffic. However, it has a bad weed potentiality if it escapes into your garden bed.
- Zoysia grass: Zoysia grass is a warm-season grass that’s known for its fine texture and ability to thrive in a wide range of climates and soils. It’s a good choice for low-maintenance lawns, landscaping, and golf courses.
- Tall fescue: Tall fescue is a cool-season grass that’s well-suited to cool, temperate climates in Australia. It has a dense, fine-textured appearance and is a good choice for oversowing your lawn in the winter in the colder states.
- Rye grass: Rye grass is a cool-season grass that’s also well-suited to cool, temperate climates in Australia with a fine-textured appearance. Beware: the seeds can cause some people to have asthma attacks or severe allergic reactions, and I’ve personally found that tall fescue just works better (at least in Melbourne).
- Bent grass: Bent grass is a cool-season grass. It has a fine-textured appearance and is a good choice for golf courses, sports fields, and residential lawns.
- Bluegrass: Bluegrass is another cool-season grass with a fine-textured appearance and is a good choice for sports fields, parks, and residential lawns.
- Saint Augustine grass: Saint Augustine grass is a warm-season grass with a coarse-textured appearance which is a good choice for residential lawns, landscaping, and golf courses.
- Santa Ana: Santa Ana grass is a warm-season grass with a low-growing habit and a fine-textured appearance.
Hort People Job Board
Hort People is the Australian horticulture industry job board, where you can browse turf management jobs around the countrhy. Click here
You can also upload your resume so that employers can chase you. Click here
Whether you’re a seasoned turf manager, a sports club administrator, or simply interested in the future of lawns and playing fields, this guide to the future of turf management in Australia provides insight into where we are, and where we’re going as an industry.
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