Turf Nutrition Innovations Focus on N Technologies

The key to efficient fertilizers is understanding nitrogen delivery within a grass plant. Knowledge and innovation are the core of ICL's turf business.

6 mins

Dr. Andy Owen and Henry Bechelet, Technical Managers at ICL, explain how knowledge and innovation are at the core of ICL’s turf business.

ICL are global nutrition specialists. We are specialists in the production and development of market-leading fertilizer technologies and we also employ field-based specialists to advise our customers on how to get the best results from them. ICL employ teams of highly experienced and professionally qualified turf nutrition specialists who work with turf managers to create nutritional programs that enable their turf to perform to the very highest standard. Our Area Managers all have an in-depth knowledge of fertilizer technologies and how best to create fully efficient and integrated programs. Our underlying philosophy comes from a desire to act responsibly, so we embrace best practice guidelines and we always consider the latest ways of thinking.


Investing in Research

A distinguishing characteristic of ICL is that we invest in research to inform the advice that we give. We believe it is necessary for our staff to be open-minded and provide up-to-date advice based on the latest research and thinking. In the same way that our technologies have developed over the years, so have our beliefs and understanding. We strive to be positively progressive industry partners.

One of our foundation beliefs is with the delivery of nitrogen (N), which we view as being by far the most crucial aspect of turf nutrition. Nitrogen is unlike any other turf nutrient because it is used to actively control growth directly. We routinely deploy different forms or blends of N sources in varying amounts to achieve specific turf responses that suit the management requirement at the time. But, in the UK we still take quite a simplistic approach to the use of N and only tend to look at annual nitrogen inputs (in terms of kg of N per hectare per year) to make sure we are “in the right area” for the turf type and situation. Is this really the best way of looking at things?


Looking more Closely at Nitrogen

Looking at the annual nitrogen delivery doesn’t provide us with any indication of how well the growth has been managed during the year. It is clear that we should be looking more closely at nitrogen inputs and aiming to deliver it in more specific and targeted amounts to produce exacting responses that achieve a greater and more efficient level of control. Rather than looking at N inputs per year we think that it is more helpful to look at N inputs per week. This is nothing new, but it is something that could be extremely helpful and it might take you to a higher level of understanding and proficiency.

So, with this way of thinking we would still be working toward a general annual nitrogen target (say 100–120 kg of N per year) but we would also be looking more closely at the weekly N inputs to apply specific amounts at particular times to create turf responses that sync exactly with the wider maintenance objectives. For instance, we might want to stimulate an increased level of growth for a couple of weeks in the spring to help the turf quickly recover through a heavy top dressing but without creating an overly prolonged and unwanted excessive growth pattern that might cause problems later on. Or we might wish to manage a very precise level of growth during the summer that is able to produce surfaces that recover from the rigors of maintenance and play but without accumulating excessive organic matter at the turf base. This is where a knowledge of N inputs per week can really help you focus your fertilizer program and get the balance exactly right.

Let’s take a look at a simple example. Of course, each situation will be different based on grass types, climate, and other environmental or management factors, but for the sake of example let’s imagine typical push-up Poa annua greens. In this case, if we apply 5–6 kg of N per hectare per week during the early part of the growing season, we would achieve a very strong growth response that would stimulate the turf to recover very quickly through a heavy top-dressing event for instance. If we choose to apply 3–4 kg of N per hectare per week during the summer, we would provoke a moderate growth response that would be appropriate for good recovery from intensive maintenance or play. Last, if we apply 1–2 kg of N per hectare per week we might achieve a very low turf response, but it may be sufficient to prevent the turf from deteriorating under lower levels of play. The point is that at different points in the maintenance calendar, we need to control the turf responses in different ways if we manage the turf properly. The exact figures would vary for each situation, but we think that if we want to control the growth of your turf properly then a knowledge of kg of N per hectare per week would be a great help.

At this stage you might be thinking that this is all very interesting, but how do we calculate the levels of N per week in a quick and easy way? This is, of course, what the nutrition specialists are here for. Our research over the years on nitrogen release patterns has given us a detailed understanding of how our products release over time. We also invest a great deal of time and effort to provide our team of field-based Area Managers with supporting technologies that help them build their programs and make all the necessary calculations. We have just upgraded the ICL iTurf Program (which is the application our teams use to compile nutrition programs with their clients) to incorporate the weekly nitrogen inputs as well as the annual totals. With the iTurf Program we can overlay different release technologies, adjust the timings of applications, play with the application rates and fine tune the longevities to achieve the desired nitrogen delivery patterns throughout the year.


Combing our Skill, Knowledge, and Experience

With the ICL iTurf Program we aim to bring together all our skill, knowledge, and experience to create fertilizer programs that synchronize totally with the maintenance schedule/playing season. Our aim is never to apply excessive, unnecessary, or wasteful levels of nitrogen but by the same token we don’t want to apply too little. We simply want to be as precise as possible with our use of nitrogen and create fully effective turf responses. We think that by focusing on kgs of N per hectare per week we will see a clearer way to optimize nutrient inputs and create better turf.

So, we now have the means to really get under the skin of your nutrition program. We think that by understanding your nitrogen delivery in a more detailed way, your fertilizer programs will become more finely tuned and the surfaces will benefit as a result. The iTurf program is not a prescriptive approach it is simply a planning tool that our team of nutrition specialists use in consultation with their clients to map out the nutrient inputs in an easy-to-understand way. If you would like a demonstration of the program to map out your fertilizer requirements for the year week by week, then get in touch with a member of our team. If you think that we are just here to sell you fertilizer, then you already have another think coming.