On Wednesday, October 29-30, 2008, the Board of Directors of the National Turfgrass Federation (NTF) met in Washington, DC with Federal officials and Congressional staff to discuss many items of interest to the turfgrass industry.

The group also met to discuss NTF and how the organization can progress and advance issues important to the turf industry.

On October 29 the group first met with Dr. Tom Bewick, USDA-Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES), National Program Leader for Horticulture. The discussions centered on the Specialty Crops Research Initiative included in the 2007 Farm Bill. The Specialty Crops Initiative allows crops, other than major program crops (corn, wheat, soybeans, etc.), an opportunity for research dollars. This is the first significant opportunity for turfgrass researchers to compete for federal research funding. One turfgrass project (Biosolid use in sod production – University of Wisconsin & Virginia Tech) was selected and was in fact, rated the highest of any project. Mr. Bewick indicated that $50 – 100 million will be available for funding next year.

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Next, the group met with Jorge Garcia-Pratts, Douglas Marousek and Lance Honig from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).  NASS collects and reports annual (and sometimes monthly) data for many agricultural and horticultural crops.  The only segment of the turf industry that has been surveyed nationally is the sod industry, as a portion of horticultural crops surveyed.  The interest is in a national survey of the entire turfgrass industry, its size, scope and economic value, in a similar manner to what several states have surveyed in the past. We found out that since NASS has statisticians in each state, the job is possible and NASS has a great interest in conducting such a survey. The next steps are to determine, for this first survey, the scope and breadth, and approximate funding needed by NASS. 

The National Turfgrass Research Initiative (NTRI) was the focus of the next meeting, with Dr. Ed Knipling, Administrator, USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS). NTRI is a plan to conduct high priority, long-term turfgrass research within ARS. NTRI was also mentioned in the Farm Bill as a high priority research initiative. We expressed our gratitude for Dr. Knipling’s support of NTRI within ARS and we also discussed how to move NTRI forward and increase its funding. 

To further the discussions on funding for NTRI, the group met with West Higginbothom, Legislative Assistant for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Fitz Elder, Agriculture Appropriations staff director for Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT). We also discussed the need for a national turfgrass survey and the need for funding. 

Lastly, we had two meetings to discuss the new EPA’s WaterSense draft specifications for new home construction. WaterSense is a federal government program designed to reduce water use and protect the environment. These draft specifications are problematic as they contain several provisions that either limit the amount of turf in the landscape, or restrict implementation of sound water conservation measures. We first met with Kristen Brainerd, Rep. Jim Costa’s staff (D-CA-20th) and then Lacey Kiriakou, staff to Congressman George Radanovich (R-CA-19th).  Both House members are leaders of the Congressional Water Caucus.  Our conversations with the staffers expressed our problems with the draft specs and how the turf industry and Congress might work with EPA to revise the specs, considering sound science.

Representing the turfgrass industry in these discussions were Dr. Mike Kenna, U.S. Golf Association (USGA), Dr. Clark Throssell, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), Dr. Brian Horgan, University of Minnesota, Mr. Tom Delaney, Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), Mr. Kirk Hunter, Turfgrass Producers International (TPI), Mr. Kris Kiser, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), Mr. John Farner, Irrigation Association (IA), Mr. Bill Behan and Dr. Mark Schmidt, John Deere and Mr. Kevin Morris, National Turfgrass Federation.

On October 30, NTF held its semi-annual Board of Directors meeting. Members discussed the previous day’s meetings and determined follow-up actions. Other items of interest addressed by the Board of Directors included increasing NTF memberships to enhance NTF‘s programs.  NTF will retain a lobbyist to work on issues for 2009. Also, NTF will develop a strategic plan in 2009. The NTF Board of Directors will meet again in March 2009 to visit with Congress and members of the new Administration.

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