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Researchers at Washington State search to find toughest living turf for athletic fields

November 30, 2023

Researchers at Washington State University are looking at fields of experimental grasses to find the toughest living turf for athletic fields. Crop scientist Michael Neff and stormwater ecologist Kate Kraszewski recently launched a two-year effort to identify and breed grasses that can stand up to constant wear.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to make real turf resilient enough to deal with the impact that comes with sports,” Neff, professor and head of WSU’s grass breeding program, told the WSU Insider.

Backed by the Washington State Turfgrass Seed Association and supported by $695,000 in funding from the State of Washington, Neff and colleagues will plant sod fields next spring at Puyallup, Mount Vernon, Wenatchee, Othello, Prosser and Pullman, Wash., with grass blends selected for their ability to survive and self-repair under punishment.

To solve challenges, Neff plants blends of grass with different strengths. Kentucky bluegrass, for instance, grows well in the inland west and can repair itself from the rhizome, its network of roots and underground stems.

The research team plans to examine how well and quickly grass grows back after simulated wear, as well as its playability: how firm, thick and safe it is to play on. The most resilient varieties will be incorporated in the WSU grass breeding program.

To test the blends, scientists at WSU’s Perennial Grass Breeding and Ecology Farm at Pullman use specialized equipment that simulates heavy use: among them, an “earth cannon” that drops a metal probe to measure soil compaction, a cleated device that gauges torque needed to tear up sod, and a tractor-towed cylinder studded with hundreds of metal bolts.

The researchers plan to partner with parks departments, schools and colleges across the state, helping organizations get more use out of their playfields and testing their ideas on a larger scale.

This article is tagged with and posted in Industry, News, Turf Use

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