Turf Research Florida partners sod growers with researchers

University of Florida turfgrass researchers have partnered with twenty-one Florida sod producers from the Florida Sod Growers Cooperative (FSGC) to form Turf Research Florida, a grower-funded research initiative.  The research group will seek out new and improved zoysiagrass varieties, particularly those that are disease resistant.  Turfgrass research, development and marketing company Sod Solutions is coordinating this cooperative effort and will be the licensing and marketing agent for new grasses resulting from the program.        

“We believe the University of Florida’s turfgrass breeding program is one of the top programs in the world for warm season turfgrass,” said Tobey Wagner, president of Sod Solutions.  “These Florida growers are of the same opinion and believe that Florida’s “grass of the future” will likely come from this research collaboration; that’s why they wanted to be a part of funding it.”

The primary objectives of the research will address large patch disease, drought and shade responses of experimental lines of zoysiagrass.  Secondary objectives may include color retention during cooler weather and hunting billbug or caterpillar (fall armyworm and tropical sod webworm) responses.     

“This program represents a new era of cooperation between the University of Florida turfgrass breeding program and industry partners,” said Dr. Kevin Kenworthy, head of the zoysia-breeding program at the University.  “Florida’s climate makes conditions ripe for turfgrass disease.  While there is no ‘perfect grass,’ finding a strain with an improved disease response will complement other positive attributes of zoysiagrass and bring us closer to finding the best turfgrass for Florida.”

The University of Florida will conduct the research and evaluate the turfgrass performance of the experimental lines at several locations across Florida.  Locations include both University research centers and partnering sod farms.  As the best experimental lines are identified, larger plots will be installed on several sod farms and growers will provide information regarding establishment, harvesting, re-growth and installation of the selected lines.  Release is expected within five to six years. 

Sod Solutions has teamed with other universities to release to market turfgrasses in the past.  The release of Bella Bluegrass was done in partnership with the University of Nebraska, the release of NorthBridge and Latitude 36 Bermudagrass was done in partnership with Oklahoma State University and the release of Captiva St. Augustine was done in cooperation with the University of Florida.