Superintendents can save more than just water by implementing an effective program, manufacturers say
By Lawrence Aylward

Editor’s note: Part two of a two-part series. Part one, “They Will Only Get More Popular,” appeared in the June issue of Superintendent.

Don Spier likes to talk about the Florida golf course that has saved $50,000 to $100,000 a year on electricity costs since implementing a soil surfactant program. It’s clear that the golf course superintendent at that course understands surfactants can save him much more than water, notes Spier, vice president of the professional turf business for Waukegan, Illinois-based Precision Laboratories.

But do most superintendents understand the value surfactants can bring from a budgetary standpoint – not just saving on water, but also on labor and electricity?

Spier believes that most superintendents use surfactants to address localized dry spot, reduce plant stress and improve playability.

“A growing number of superintendents are starting to realize that surfactants can reduce the amount of water needed to maintain healthy playing surfaces while reducing the electricity needed to power their irrigation systems,” he adds.

Colleen Tocci, marketing manager for Prescott, Arizona-based Engage Agro USA, says surfactants have come a long way since the days when they were only used to control localized dry spot.

“Many of today’s superintendents understand and enjoy the benefits of effective water and chemical movement,” Tocci explains. “They have modified some traditional management practices, thereby saving water, electricity and labor. However, I’ve spoken to some superintendents who still get nervous in the heat of the summer and, if permitted, fall back to their previous ways – increased irrigation frequency and hand watering.”

Andy Moore, director of sales for Paulsboro, New Jersey-based Aquatrols, says many superintendents understand the broad value that surfactants offer. He says the company’s market research reveals that one of the most frequent reasons they use surfactants is to reduce water use.

“However, when you dig deeper, it’s apparent that not everyone is getting the maximum benefit out of these products,” Moore says. “There are opportunities for superintendents to use soil surfactants more broadly at their facilities and save more on water, electricity and labor. This is especially true for surfactant use beyond greens management. We’re seeing superintendents in many areas extend the use of soil surfactants to fairways, where most of the water is applied on a golf course.”

It all goes back to cost-benefit analysis, Moore stresses.

“What is the cost of doing things today, and what will the cost be down the road? How do surfactants help to balance those costs?” he asks.

Gordon Kauffman III, technical representative for Albion, Idaho-based Grigg Brothers, says most superintendents may not understand the value surfactants can provide beyond the obvious one – saving water – because they haven’t committed to a long-term program.

“Many superintendents likely feel [too] limited by resources, including budget and labor, to effectively implement an effective program,” he says. “For a true understanding to be realized, the superintendent must be educated, and then work closely with ownership/management to develop a long-term plan, which will likely require investment capital with the goal to save money on water, labor and energy long term, while providing a better growing environment for turfgrass and, subsequently, the best and sustainable golf course conditions.”

Ben Poole, vice president of Ambler, Pennsylvania-based Montco Products, notes that there are nearly 200 wetting agents on the market, and all of them are different. Poole warns superintendents to stay away from surfactants that move water too fast because they can damage turf by burning microscopic root hairs and sterilize microbes in the soil.

“What good is trying to conserve water and labor if you turn your grass the color of a cardboard box?” Poole asks.