Friday, January 19, 2018

Part 2: The Keyboard is Mightier Than the Fist. How MLSN Will Save Middle Class Golf

Near the end of summer last season, John Kaminski fired off a tweet asking if there was a superintendent willing to do a presentation on a relevant topic at the Penn State Turf Conference. Like an idiot, I sent old @iTweetTurf a direct message volunteering to do a talk about how I changed my entire approach to greenkeeping.  I really wasn't sure if, Dr. Kaminski was going to gamble on some nickel bagging superintendent like myself spieling about MLSN and Growth Potential, but surprisingly, this professor, who sometimes moonlights as a photographer, accepted my sword of minimalist greenkeeping, and placed my arse on the docket.

Never having done any sort of public speaking, short of addressing the nine o'clock sweeps concerning the cart rules,  I was fucking terrified.  Plus my only concept of power point was powerfully pointing out tasks to my staff (*1).  The thought of getting up in front of my peers was scary beyond belief, but I prepared pretty tough , and despite my inexperience, the presentation was a smash.

As I was preparing this talk for the PSU Turf conference titled, "The Art of Minimalist Greenkeeping" two very distinct ideas kept coalescing in my mind.  The first thought was motivated by the animosity I felt towards Mr. Armen Suny due to his inexplicable attitude towards the Minimal Levels of Sustainable Nutrition.  His genuine disdain for this simplistic approach to managing soils inspired me to absolutely crush it.  And while honing my presentation in the dark basement of my killer brick ranch house, every time I fumbled, spaced or fucked up, I wouldn't let myself quit until it was totally dialed in.  My sole purpose was to obliterate the old school and antiquated attitudes of the Suny set, and in order to do so, I needed to convince every goddamn greenkkeeper in attendance that what I was talking about was legit.  The chip on my shoulder was strong (*2).

The second idea was definitely more esoteric and comforting than the first.  And it happened so organically, inspired from a place of ease and comfort, it truly was the yin to my anger fueled yang of wanting to camel clutch BCSR into submission.   I realized this minimalist, efficient, optimal, dumbass, or however you prefer to describe the style of greenkeeping I am currently practicing, is having a profound financial impact on the club I work for.  I'm probably writing cover letters and resumes as opposed to blogging right now, because there's a possibility our club doesn't make it another year if I had kept on managing soils the way I had done in the past.

So let's break it down....

When I arrived at my current position during the middle of June in 2016, before I had been turned on to the MLSN guidelines, one of the first things I did was scope out the soil reports.  Then I checked to see if the previous superintendent had been following the recommendations based off the soil tests pictured below.




The previous superintendent had been spot on follow these recommendations, so all I was responsible for was continuing this program throughout the rest of the 2016 season.

Let's break down the cost of this program.  And if you don't feel like delving into the particulars, you're more than welcome to scroll past all this nonsense to see how much money the previous superintendent and myself spent on trying to balance soils during the 2016 season.

Greens (3.5 acres):

To supply our greens with the 1.5 lbs. of granular nitrogen required 32 bags of 19-0-19 (*3)
  • 32 forty pound bags x $51.50 per bag = $1,648.00
Cost of designer spoon feeding program to deliver approximately one pound of N =  $7,345.50 (foliar app: $145.74/acre, soil app: $66.13/acre) (*4)

.75 pounds of Phosphorus (10-50-00)
  • 4 fifty pound bags x $24.50 = $98.00
3.5 pounds of Potassium (0-0-50)
  • 19 fifty pound bags x 25.50 = $484.50
Magnesium
  • pro-mag36, 20 bags for audit rate x $36.00 = $720.00
Calcium, Micro Nutrients & Special Materials: See footnote (*4)

Total Cost Greens: $10,296.00

Fairways (19.5 acres)

To supply our fairways with 2 pounds of granular nitrogen required 110 bags of a 28-0-14 custom blend poly coated material (*5)
  • 110 fifty pound bags x 49.75 = $5,472.50 
250 gallon tote of liquid 30-0-0 to spoon feed 1 pound through summer
  • $1,750.00
.75 pounds of Phosphorus (10-50-00)
  • 24 fifty pound bags x $22.50 = $540.00
4 pounds of Potassium (0-0-50) (*6)
  • 120 fifty pound bags x $22.75 = $2,730.00
Magnesium
  • pro-mag36, 50 bags for audit rate x $36.00 = $1,800.00
Micro Nutrients
  • 11 five gallon cases of micro mix = $2,320.00
Special Material
  • 4 cases of Exalt = $2,100.00
Total Cost Fairways: $16,712.50

Tees (2.5 acres)

To supply our tees with 1.5 pounds of granular nitrogen required 10 bags of a 28-0-14 custom blend poly coated material
  • 10 fifty pound bags x $49.75 = $497.50
35 gallons of liquid 30-0-0 to spoon feed 1 pound through summer
  • 35 x $7:00/gallon = $245.00
.75 pounds of Phosphorus (10-50-00)
  • 3 fifty pound bags x $22.50 = $67.50
4.25 pounds of Potassium (*7)
  • 17 fifty pound bags x $22.75 = $386.75
Magnesium
  • pro-mag36, 10 bags for audit rate x $36.00 = $360.00
Micro Nutrients
  • 7.5 gallons of micro mix = $315.00
Total Cost Tees: $1,871.75

That's quite some loot for a plant nutrient grand total of, $28,880.25 for the entire 2016 season.

And this is how I rolled for ten seasons as a superintendent.  I followed those soil recommendations  pretty tough, and would never think of cutting any of this from any budget I prepared.   It was my firm belief that this was the sole and correct way to produce healthy playing surfaces, despite the financials.  These numbers were non negotiable, and if I was running your greens department, you had better be able to pony up the dough for this specific style of greenkeeping.

But then I got turned on to the Minimal Levels of Sustainable Nutrition and using Growth Potential to time nitrogen applications.  Going into the 2017 season I used the same person who did the soil tests and recommendations for the the 2016 season, and guess what?  His recommendations were nearly identical to the previous season.  But I did not adhere to them like I would have in the past.  Instead, I focused on supplying the plant with only what was necessary, as opposed to a full on inputpalooza.  No longer did I feel it was necessary to balance our growing medium.

Below is a photo of a soil test taken from our 11th green prior to the 2017 season.  Notice the blue bars noting the sufficiency level of each nutrient.  In the past, I would've been tweeking over any nutrient in the deficient, low or high category.  Going into the 2017 season, I couldn't have cared less.  My focus was on ensuring the nutrients in our soils were above the MLSN guidelines.



MLSN Guidelines        11 Green
pH: > 5.5                      pH: 6.4
Potassium: 37 ppm      Potassium: 79 ppm
Phosphorus: 21 ppm    Phosphorus: 82 ppm
Calcium: 331 ppm       Calcium: 531 ppm
Magnesium: 47 ppm    Magnesium: 90 ppm
Sulfur: 7 ppm               Sulfur: 9 ppm

So according to the MLSN guidelines this putting surface was supplied with enough of any one nutrient to perform.  But I have to take into account that the plant is going to use what is there so I applied Potassium sulfate in small doses to ensure the K levels on this particular green did not fall below the MLSN guidelines.  The other greens I had tested pretty much mimicked these results with slight variations here and there, but no putting surface showed any nutrient falling below the MLSN guidelines. 

Here is a photo of the soil test results of 10 fairway prior to the 2017 season.


MLSN Guidelines        10 Fairway
pH: > 5.5                      pH: 6.1
Potassium: 37 ppm      Potassium: 144 ppm
Phosphorus: 21 ppm    Phosphorus: 47 ppm
Calcium: 331 ppm       Calcium: 1050 ppm
Magnesium: 47 ppm    Magnesium: 167 ppm
Sulfur: 7 ppm               Sulfur: 15 ppm

Again, none of the nutrients fall below the MLSN guidelines, and with the exception of Phosphorus, it looks like I have a well stocked reserve of nutrients for seasons to come.

This next photo is of the soil test results on 10 tee prior to the 2017 season.


MLSN Guidelines        10 Tee
pH: > 5.5                      pH: 6.3
Potassium: 37 ppm      Potassium: 34 ppm
Phosphorus: 21 ppm    Phosphorus:39 ppm 
Calcium: 331 ppm       Calcium: 328 ppm
Magnesium: 47 ppm    Magnesium: 45 ppm
Sulfur: 7 ppm               Sulfur: 7 ppm

This test result really shows off the simplicity of the MLSN philosophy pertaining to managing soils.  The nutrients supplying the turf on this specific tee fall below the recommended guidelines so the decision to add Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium and Magnesium was fairly simple (*8).  And that's exactly what I did!  The other tees tested were all well above the proposed MLSN guidelines, so in theory, I did not have to add any inputs on these tees.  It simply was my choice to add or not to add.

So what did I do in 2017?

The first decision I made was to eliminate the use of granular based sources of any kind, while choosing to melt down ag grade materials, like feed grade urea, and potassium sulfate in an effort to feed our turf in small doses.  I stopped placing a target on pounds of Nitrogen applied throughout a season, and based Nitrogen applications on Growth Potential, measuring the clipping yield on greens, and observation.  With the exception of iron, supplementing with micros was no longer in play, and that costly designer spoon feeding program applied on putting surfaces, along with that special material was deemed totally unnecessary (*8).  By taking this simplified approach I was able to dramatically reduce costs.  Again, if you don't feel like plowing through the breakdown, feel free to scroll past this nonsense to the good part....the cost savings!

Greens (3.5 acres):
  • 46-0-0 feed grade urea (10 lbs./acre to deliver 1/10th of a pound of N)
  • Potassium sulfate (10 lbs./acre to deliver 1/10th of a pound of K)
  • Ferrous sulfate (2 lbs./acre)
Cost per acre: $11.16
Cost to treat 3.5 acres: $39.06
Cost for 11 applications 2017: $468.72 

Fairways/Tees (22 combined acres):

  • 46-0-0 feed grade urea (10 lbs./acre to deliver 1/10th of a pound of N)
  • Potassium sulfate (10 lbs./acre to deliver 1/10th of a pound of K)
  • Ferrous sulfate (2 lbs./acre)
Cost per acre: $11.16
Cost to treat 22 acres: $245.52
Cost for 8 applications 2017: $1,964.16

Plant Nutrient Costs 2017: $2,432.88
Plant Nutrient Costs 2016: $28,880.25

Total Savings: $26,447.37

If you don't think this is a significant savings, then I'm sorry, but you're a full on knucklehead. And perhaps you're thinking, "how did the surfaces perform" which is a very logical question to ask.  In all honesty, they performed remarkably well, and it seemed like the less we messed around with things, the better the plant reacted.   This is why I firmly believe MLSN will save middle class golf.  A hair over twenty six grand is quite the chunk of change, and it is my honest opinion that this savings helped our club survive. 

By implementing MLSN to manage nutrient levels in the soil, along with using Growth Potential and other tactics to time Nitrogen applications was certainly a game changer for me.  It reinvigorated my interest in greenkeeping like you wouldn't believe, and improved my mettle as a turf manager.  For the first time in my career, I honestly feel like an environmental steward, and not some poser that produces green playing surfaces for the sole purpose of keeping my job.  I took a calculated risk, and it paid off.

Footnotes 

1)  I snaked this power point bit from The Office.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_2Hh-UGm8I

2)  I want to make this absolutely crystal clear that I appreciate Mr. Armen Suny and the contributions he has made to our industry.  I have called Mr. Suny about job positions on a few occasions, and he has always taken the time to respond while giving me sound advice.  If you have not listened to the podcast where he and Dave Wilber discuss resumes and job interviews, you definitely should.  It's worth a listen.  But what bums me out about Mr. Suny is his opinion concerning MLSN.  I just wish he was more open minded about it, because he does hold the purse strings for some of the most coveted positions in our industry.  Which I realize, I have totally screwed myself out of scoring any of these jobs, and I'm totally cool with this.  

3) This application also supplied 1.5 pounds of K

4) Designer spoon feeding program supplied calcium, micros & special material

5) I inherited this crap, and even before I was turned on to less expensive N sources, I was still appalled at the price of this product.  Couldn't believe it!

6) No foliar K was applied to fairways even though it was recommended.  All supplemental K was applied in granular form.

7) Same deal on tees.  No foliar K was used even though it was recommended.  All supplemental K was applied in granular form.

8)This tee still looked pretty awesome despite its nutrient levels being below the MLSN guidelines.









































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