We love listening to Dr. Tom Rufty speak on industry issues. He has tremendous passion for his livelihood. Rufty, incidentally, is the distinguished professor of environmental plant biology at North Carolina State University (NCSU).
Rufty was a speaker in April at a press event held by Syngenta at the company’s Vero Beach, Florida, research facility. Syngenta announced two new fungicides: Appear and Heritage Action.
With the introduction of Ference insecticide last year and Velista fungicide at the Golf Industry Show earlier this year, Syngenta has launched four products in the last eight months. In 2014, Syngenta said it invested $1.43 billion, or $3.91 million every day, on global research and development efforts.
Rufty was at the media event to speak about water efficiency, especially as it relates to Syngenta’s Daconil Action, which has been available to golf course superintendents for a few years now and has garnered solid reviews.
Rufty kicked off his talk speaking about the drought that a good part of the U.S. has been in for the last five years. Rufty expects that, like past droughts, the cycle will soon change.
“But then there’s the possibility that things might not be OK … and that [drought] could be an intense problem in the future,” he added.
Rufty then showed two maps from the U.S. Drought Monitor that revealed a very dry future for the country in the next 50 years. Rufty called the outlook “bleak.”
Not surprisingly, Rufty and other N.C. State personnel have been studying drought tolerance in crops and turfgrass. One study on soybeans has been ongoing for 23 years. Researchers have kept a close eye on wilting.
Rufty provided a quick science lesson on how water moves through a plant from the soil. Water is released from leaves through stomata. The rate of release depends on the gradient from saturated water pools in the leaf and the potential for gashes/water molecules to go into the atmosphere. If there is dry air and potential for evaporation to occur, the water loss is much faster than with humid air, Rufty explained. The opening and closure of the stomata is how the plant controls its loss. The plant will wilt if it begins running out of water.
“The stomata will try to close and prevent a plant from dying because of lack of water, but it’s not very effective in putting off the wilting process,” Rufty said.
In controlled environments, Rufty said, he can see when stomata begins to close in dry environments.
“If you increase dryness around a plant, what you have is transpiration picking up in a linear fashion,” Rufty explained “But if you can begin to close the stomata at a certain vapor-pressure deficit, you can limit excessive loss of water.”
As with soybeans, the N.C. State staff began studying turfgrass.
“We have been studying test plots to see if there’s anything that is having an impact on stomatal sensibility,” Rufty said.
This is where Daconil Action comes in. Superintendents applied it to control disease, but noticed another benefit of the product. It is having an impact on stomatal sensibility.
“We had input from golf course superintendents who said when they applied Daconil Action that they didn’t have to worry about [cool-season] turf wilting for [so soon],” Rufty said.
The superintendents, of course, were pleased with this discovery as it enabled them to reduce hand watering on the turf because it wasn’t wilting as often. A reduction in hand watering meant a reduction in labor costs, not to mention the superintendents not having to worry about their course’s greens burning up.
“It was a value add to them,” Rufty said.
The bottom line: Daconil Action is helping turfgrass retain water and keeping it healthy. Normally, where superintendents noticed wilting turf after five or six days of abiotic stress when the plant begins to lose water, they didn’t see that until about the 11th day when using Daconil Action.
The two components of Daconil Action fungicide are chlorothalonil and acibenzolar. Chlorothalonil is a familiar active ingredient to most superintendents and is a multi-site, contact fungicide. Acibenzolar, by itself, is highly active in stimulating a turfgrass plant’s defense system in a process called Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR). Acibenzolar has no direct activity on a fungal pathogen. Chlorothalonil provides surface protection of the plant and acibenzolar helps enhance biotic and abiotic stress management, allowing the plant to protect itself internally.
“We know it’s the acibenzolar component of Daconil Action that’s [delaying wilting],” Rufty said.
Incidentally, Heritage Action also contains acibenzolar, along with azoxystrobin. These two active ingredients work together to control disease, while protecting turf from abiotic stress like heat and drought.