The Science Behind Wetting Agents For Turf

Recent advancements in the effectiveness of ICL’s wetting agents has made them an important tool for turf managers.

February 14, 2022
5 mins

ICL has been providing wetting agents to turf managers for the last two decades to resolve the problem of dry patch and to effectively distribute water through the soil and into the root zone. In recent years, advancements in the development of wetting agents have made them more effective and safer.

As water is an increasingly precious resource around the world, wetting agents now play an important role in aiding water conservation and promoting overall turf health and quality, as part of an integrated turf management program. We talk to Lana Farren, Technical Manager at ICL’s Amega Sciences for a sneak peek behind the scenes of ICL’s wetting and water conservation agents.

“Amega Sciences are experts in formulating specialty products and they do that by utilizing surfactant technologies. Because surfactants are surface-active it means that they affect the surfaces of liquids, solids, and gases. We use surfactants to manipulate surfaces and that can help to achieve better adhesion of the product onto the leaf, or it could be to increase water infiltration into the soil, or even cleaning surfaces of residues. For example, as agricultural spray-tank cleaners after applying plant protection products, to remove that residue from the tank, so that further applications are not affected by those residues, or to clean out the nozzles and the pipelines. But we specialize in wetting agents, water conservation adjuvant technologies.”


Lana Farren’s team: Lewis Peattie (chemist), Chris Taylor (chemist), and Oliver Peerless (laboratory manager).


Lana has been with Amega for coming up to 12 years. As Technical Manager she manages the central ICL R&D research projects, and develops the products that come through from the marketing side.


Why are wetting agents important for turf managers?

“Water management is a crucial part of growing any plant and that includes turf grass, but there are two main problems with water. First, you’ve got costs and the availability of suitable irrigation water, and using products in the H2Pro range will reduce the amount of irrigation water required so it can help to reduce the cost of the water used. The second problem is in the soil. Water repellency can cause things like dry spots, compaction, and disease, which all cause problems producing a consistent turf surface which is important to the games on the turf. Using the H2Pro range of wetting agents as part of the maintenance and fertilizer program will help against all of those, and provide a healthy sward by distributing water evenly and then allowing drainage where it’s needed.”

ICL focuses on quality products that work well. Each product in the H2Pro wetting agent range is designed specifically for a particular job and it can take years to research and develop them. ICL runs several trials on all potential products to ensure proof of performance before the product gets to market. Amega and the ICL turf technical managers work together closely to ensure that the products perform.


Is it complicated to bring a range of wetting agents to the market?

“A lot of time and effort goes into research. It is not an easy process, and an enormous amount of work goes into the development just for the one product. There are many different surfactant types, there are different chemistries, and they all have different effects on the surfaces they’re applied to. Because we blend the different chemistries together, they also have to be stabilized in the formulation to make sure that it will be good for 2 years after it’s been produced.”


What makes H2Pro different to other wetting agents on the market?

“To start, you need a good knowledge of the surfactants and tailoring the formulations to do what you want them to deliver in terms of performance. Once the surfactants are selected and stabilized, the formulas then undergo rigorous stability testing at different temperatures to ensure that they are stable around the world in different climates. We do tests on surface tension, spreadability, penetration, and wetting, among other tests and they’re all conducted in-house at Amega Sciences chemistry laboratories. Then the prototypes are checked for phytotoxicity and performance effects on the target crop in Amega Sciences biology laboratories. After the first screening tests in the biology labs, the best performers are chosen for field trials at different sites around the world. That ensures performance on different grass types, or different crops, and under different environmental conditions. We have various sites around the world either at universities or contract research sites, including the UK, the USA, and Australia.”

ICL and Amega don’t just stop at one set of results. Each product is tested at several trial sites before it hits the market. This process normally takes around 2–3 years.

“We have a strong supporting dossier of trial results. That way we can ensure that our products are stable in the bottle, will do what we’ve developed them to do, and they have a proven benefit to the targeting crop. At the very end of the development, we test the product’s application rate as tank mixes with our entire turf range. That enables the turf manager to make an informed choice on whether they can mix two of ICL’s products together to save time and labor out on the greens. This tank mix guide is then published in the ICL Turf & Landscape brochures.”


What should every turf manager looking to improve their use of wetting agents know?

“It’s a common misconception that all wetting agent and surfactant technologies are the same. There are a lot of wetting agents on the market, but they are not all the same. Wetting agent products are designed to do different things, so using high quality products with support in independent trial information is essential. And we’d always recommend a preventive approach using a program with wetting agents within a fertilizer and maintenance schedule, so that you ensure even soil moisture and prevent the issues before they happen.”