Cultural Practices for Athletic Fields: Organic and IPM Practices

Organic Practices for Athletic Fields

Organic management involves the use of all natural, non-synthetic substances. Synthetic substances and some materials of natural origin are becoming increasingly restricted or prohibited depending on the active ingredient and geographic location. There are currently no national standards concerning organic management for turf or land care. However, individual states have their own standards or certification programs. For example, the Connecticut legislature passed a law banning lawn care pesticide applications on the grounds of day care centers, elementary and middle schools (grade 8 and lower) because of residents’ concerns about children’s health and the environment. Check the laws in your community to make sure your facility is complying. STMA has compiled the resource Environmental Regulations that Affect Sports Fields that addresses regulations on a state-by-state basis.

The best way to reduce pest pressure on athletic fields is to establish and maintain a healthy, dense stand of turf. This alone will significantly reduce the amount of pesticides applied to a field. Components for a successful organic management program address the turfgrass rootzone , species selection , cultural practices and traffic management .

If pests do become a problem, the only solution to keep the field alive may be to use a pesticide. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs have provided the most environmentally friendly approach to effectively managing a sports field. Although pesticides are still used, they are applied selectively and responsibly.

Integrated Pest Management Practices

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is meant to combine all the available pest management methods to produce the healthiest turfgrass possible. It does not eliminate pests, but maintains the population or damage at a tolerable level. This level is called the pest response threshold level and is determined by the amount of pest damage that can be sustained before an unacceptable reduction in turf quality occurs. This varies depending on the site and expectations. For example, an athletic field is going to have a lower tolerance for infestations than a home lawn. Pesticides are often a part of an IPM program, but they are selected and applied responsibly to avoid health risks to humans, animals and other non-target life forms.

To have a successful IPM program, the turfgrass manager must be knowledgeable about turfgrass and pest lifecycles and their responses to cultural and chemical inputs. Addressing soil issues, selecting the best turfgrass species, utilizing proper cultural practices and managing traffic can significantly reduce pest activity and the need for pesticides. A healthy turfgrass environment is the basis for the most effective IPM program. Frequent, careful monitoring can determine the identity, location and population of weeds, insects and diseases so they can be controlled before threshold levels are exceeded. Once a problem is diagnosed, corrective action can be taken based on historical data, turf and pest lifecycles, factors favoring pest development and predetermined pest thresholds. Control options include cultural, biological, genetic and chemical methods. These options depend on effectiveness of the control procedure, cost of the treatment, size of the area to be treated, availability of labor, availability of equipment necessary to do the job and reaction of the end user. Finally, actions can be evaluated and recorded for future management decisions.

IPM programs produce the healthiest turfgrass environment possible for a given set of growing conditions. It allows for accurate and efficient pest control so pesticide misuse is minimized. Pesticides should only be used when absolutely necessary to maintain turf quality in an IPM program.