Drs. Goss and Leinauer focus on water use, or rather finding ways to reduce it.

NMSU’s Turfgrass Research working for the future

By any other name, grass – spinach, cabbage, grunkel, graminoid – is still grass.

But do you appreciate grasses for the extremely diverse and versatile organisms that they are? After all, we don’t just use grasses for sports turf, we make beer, whisky, paper, clothing, flooring and insulation from them. Bamboo and cereals are actually closely related to the sports turf you’ll be playing on this weekend.

I sat down the other day with NMSU Associate Professor Dr. Ryan Goss at his Skeen Hall office to see what’s been happening in turfgrass research.

While there is no official designation, Dr. Goss and his colleague Dr. Bernd Leinauer carry the NMSU load when it comes to the golf course maintenance industry. The two are known to many former students and their colleagues across the country as the NMSU “Turfgrass Department.”

Both devote half their time to research, while Dr. Goss teaches and Leinauer does extension work for the other half of their positions. Dr. Leinauer’s work takes him to golf courses, playfields, parks and even private homes across the State. As one might expect, both Goss and Leinauer’s research focus is on water use, or rather finding ways to reduce it.

Dr. Goss has been testing and tinkering with various non-pesticide management (often called cultural) practices to minimize water use. The use of wetting agents, plant growth regulators and maintaining optimal fertility levels are ways to reduce water requirements of various turfgrass types.

He is fond of the old expression, “the No. 1 way to control weeds is with a healthy turfgrass.”

Dr. Goss believes and his research shows that the use of pesticides can be reduced with better cultural practices. He “spreads the gospel” of cultural practices over chemical use through his teaching, writing, and speaking at various conferences and educational seminars. Matt Alcala, Dr. Goss’ graduate research assistant, has been pursuing a control of khakiweed, Alternanthera pungens. The weed is persistent with a long tap root, prolific seed production, extreme drought resistance, and a spreading habit in soils where fine turfgrasses struggle. He repeats that maintaining a strong turfgrass stand is the best way to defeat weeds – even the notoriously tenacious khakiweed.

Dr. Leinauer and his research assistants have been testing various types and cultivars of grasses at very low irrigation levels to determine what is the most drought tolerant and where there might be promise for developing even more drought tolerant strains. Test plots of the various trials are registered and available for review in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program. He also has been exploring the use of drip irrigation in turfgrass applications.

Historically, NMSU has been at the forefront of turfgrass innovation and development. Since the 1950’s turfgrass research has been a part of what is now called the Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences College. In the 80’s, NMSU professor emeritus Dr. Arden Baltensperger developed the first improved, seeded bermudagrass. NuMex Sahara, as it was named, has been used on golf courses and sports fields in semi-tropical and tropical areas all over the world. Previous improved strains of bermudagrass could only be reproduced vegetatively to retain their improved characteristics – through plant parts such as stolons or through the transfer of sod. The availability of a seeded variety that would maintain its improved features proved a boon to NMSU as well as golf courses and sports fields worldwide. Today, NuMex Sahara is distributed through such retailers as Walmart and Lowe’s as well as commercial wholesalers. NMSU has received well over a million dollars in royalties for the NuMex Sahara cultivar.

Later, Dr. Baltensperger developed ‘Princess-77’, which has proven to be competitive with most other seeded bermudagrass varieties, but with a longer growing period into the fall and earlier spring green-up. It also requires less water and has a higher wear tolerance. Aggie Memorial Stadium received an overseeding of ‘Princess-77’ in 2003 and the results have been even better than expected. ‘Princess-77’ has been the bermudagrass of choice for several Super Bowl fields. Incidentally, neither Sahara nor Princess is used at New Mexico State Golf Course.

Lately, re-use of water in the form of effluent has become a hot topic. Dr. Leinauer have been testing turf species against highly saline water sources. Bermudagrasses have proven to be most tolerant, but there are some promising results from cool season grasses as well. Here as well as in other southwestern areas, cool season grasses are getting more attention as they produce a better golf surface during the time of year that people want to play golf the most.

Dr. Goss made a point of letting me know who was sponsoring what research. Money from all over the country comes here for their work. The local Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, the Southwest Turfgrass Association and the United States Golf Association, as well as various industry sources have contributed significant sums in support of the NMSU “Turfgrass Department.”

One thing you’ll be happy to know – bamboo isn’t being touted as the golf course rough of the future.