Surfactants are perhaps one of the golf course maintenance industry’s most sustainable products. They not only help superintendents water more wisely, thus saving water, but they also help cut down on labor. Surfactants are environmentally and economically friendly.
But it didn’t start out that way, says Ben Poole, vice president of Ambler, Pennsylvania-based Montco Products. Poole’s grandfather, Robert Oechsle, founded Montco Products in the 1960s after working with Larry Fletcher and Bob Moore for 15 years. The three men were pioneers in the industry. Poole remembers Oechsle telling him stories about top agronomists laughing at him when he tried to explain the benefits of surfactants and wetting agents.
“They would turn on a dime and walk the other way,” Poole says, noting that Montco Products’ Surf-Side is the longest-selling wetting agent on the market.
Fast-forward about 50 years, and more than 90 percent of superintendents are using surfactants on their golf courses. Poole expects the use of surfactants and wetting agents will continue to increase in the coming years, especially as water prices increase, which they will in time, he says.
Poole points to research that states superintendents use surfactants for four primary purposes: relieving localized dry spots, managing water, improving drainage, and improving pesticide fertilizer movement in the soil. These purposes will only intensify in the future, Poole predicts.
“Water is a precious resource, and there are increasing regulations on fertilizer and pesticide use, which make surfactants a must,” he adds.
Poole believes most superintendents see the return on investment they can get by using surfactants and wetting agents. He notes that superintendents need to consider the safety factor when it comes to wetting agents.
“Over the last 60 years, many wetting agents have been taken off the market because they burned the turf,” he says.
In the past few years, several surfactants have been released to the market with new chemistries. But Poole stands by Surf-Side’s “old” chemistry, noting that Keith Karnok, Ph.D., a turfgrass professor at the University of Georgia, recently wrote in an article that some of the older chemistries are among the most reliable. To that, Poole notes that some of Montco Products’ customers have been using the company’s surfactants for more than 30 years.