“Extreme weather conditions are our biggest challenge”
When it comes to keeping plants and turfgrass in peak condition, ICL has the best specialist teams all over the world. Although ICL is a global player, we firmly believe in a local approach. Different countries have their own climate, their own challenges and therefore need different solutions. That is where the expertise of ICL’s Technical Managers over the world comes into play. We asked them about their backgrounds, motivations and specific challenges in their market.
When you think of the UK and Ireland, you see wide green fields as well as the wide range of ball games being played on them: golf, football, rugby, cricket and Gaelic games – just to name a few. All in all they form a huge market for turf management.
And that’s where the energetic Henry Bechelet, technical sales manager for ICL Turf and Landscape in the UK and Ireland, comes in. Henry is a true veteran in the field of turf and landscape, but his enthusiasm has not diminished one bit since he started out…yes, when exactly? “You’re probably too polite to ask, but that’s over 30 years ago. I played golf at the time. My parents were involved in the running of the club. So I was kind of aware that the job of turfgrass agronomist existed, but if I’m being honest I got into it by complete accident.”
Henry went to university to study geography and geology. Later on, he went to an agricultural college to get a postgraduate qualification in crop protection. “After I finished that I still did not know what to do, but then I saw an advertisement for a turfgrass agronomist. So I applied and I got it. It was my first job and I’ve been doing it ever since. I never think: ‘God, I spent 30 years in this industry, I wish I thought of something else.’ I am a great believer in letting fate take its course on your life. I saw this job and went for it, discovered that I loved the whole thing and stuck with it.”
3.000 golf courses
Although ICL has specialist turf teams in Australia and New Zealand, South-East Asia and all over Europe, there’s nothing quite like the UK and Ireland when it comes to turf. “I think our small islands are the biggest area for turf”, says Henry. “We have 3.000 golf courses in the UK and Ireland and I have no idea how many football pitches. We are a sporty country I suppose, and a green and pleasant land as well.”
Every sport has a totally different approach, says Henry. “All different sports have different surfaces and requirements. Golf has a very finessed nature, with a small ball running across it as smoothly as possible, whereas on a football pitch the bounce of the ball is really important as well as the grounding of the players.” The most challenging are the ever higher standards upheld for top-end clients, ranging from Premier League teams like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City to tennis tournament Wimbledon or golf tournament The Open. Henry: “The turf managers in place there are the very best. Products that perform well are one thing, but the key value that we uphold is the quality of the advice that we give.”
What is the biggest challenge when it comes to turf management in the UK and Ireland? “We don’t have the high temperatures or dry conditions of Southern Europe,” says Henry. “Generally we have damper conditions, so our biggest challenge is turfgrass diseases that develop in these mild conditions.” Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions – whether extremely hot and dry weather or the damp conditions that Henry has to deal with – only get more extreme. “I’m fairly sure we used to get winters, but we don’t seem to get them anymore,” Henry says about the UK and Ireland. “Instead, we have like eight months of autumn now. Having that prolonged period of mild and damp weather without that really cold weather in the middle of it, putting a stop to the disease: that’s our biggest challenge. Our technology is all about maintaining plant health in difficult situations.”
Circling back to his roots in golf, Henry is proud of the monthly podcast On The Horizon he makes together with Glenn Kirby from the leading agriculture company Syngenta. “The idea is that you have to be forward looking in turf management. We talk about the specific challenges that might be faced. The main listeners are golf course managers, but we’re trying to get everyone tuned in: dealers, consultants and advisors in the industry. So it’s quite broad but specifically about golf, if you would do all sports it would be 24 hours long. I have to warn you: we do have a toe-curling tea break section in the middle.”