Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NMSU professor’s COVID-19 turfgrass research sees success

LAS CRUCES – The start of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many to find new ways to spend their time while adjusting to the “new normal” and following CDC guidelines. As people took advantage of being more outdoors, or even renovating their own backyards, researchers from across the country, including one at New Mexico State University, looked at how turfgrass management was affected, along with the economic impact of maintaining these areas.

Bernd Leinauer, Regents Professor and turfgrass Extension specialist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, worked with colleagues nationwide to examine how turfgrass management was impacted during COVID-19, and what that really meant for public parks, athletic fields and golf courses .

The research team published two articles as a result of their research: “Justification for Continued Management of Turfgrass,” and “Estimating Economic Minimums of Mowing, Fertilizing, and Irrigating Turfgrass.”

“We felt that it was prudent to explain why we even have these turfgrass areas in our environment and how much it costs to maintain these areas,” Leinauer said. “We wanted to provide this information at the beginning of the pandemic to decision-makers and the public about what is at stake here and how much it costs to maintain these areas.”

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Leinauer and his colleagues found that when it comes to mowing and fertilizing, the cost is fairly equal across the country. The biggest difference in cost concerns water.

“Irrigation is really where the cost is for maintaining turfgrass. If you have a large area, irrigate a lot, and if you have to buy water, then this can be very costly. The drier the area, the drier the climate, and the less rain you have, the more water you need and the more costly it gets,” he explained.

Bernd Leinauer and his colleagues found that when it comes to mowing and fertilizing, costs are fairly equal across the country.  The biggest difference in cost concerns water.

While looking at the differences in costs, the team found that there was a spike in the time and money people were putting into activities involving turfgrass management and maintenance once the pandemic hit close to home.

“What we hear from the manufacturers and suppliers is there also an increase in sales, because all of a sudden, you could take care of your lawn, backyard, and had time for all these projects that you put on hold,” Leinauer said . “So, this was also interesting to learn that all of a sudden people took care of their backyard, including their lawns.”

Leinauer added that another interesting finding on the financial side is how city-owned golf courses were actually benefiting from the uptick in sales.

“At the beginning of COVID-19, it was one of the major revenue streams going back to the city, because people paid for playing golf and everything went back to the city. This was surprising to us, because some were even saying ‘golf has outlived its purpose; young kids just want to be on their phones and social media’ and that’s not true,” he said. “Now we see an increase of the younger generations to play golf again. This is directly related to COVID-19, because it was one of the few exercises allowed at some point.”

Having gathered all this information, the research team submitted both publications to Agricultural and Environmental Letters, a peer-reviewed, open access journal available to the public.

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“We really wanted to submit it to a journal that is accessible, so that anyone can download them free of charge, and can be geared to practitioners and the applied scientist – even for the homeowner that wants to read a little bit more in detail, ” Leinauer said.

The second article, on economic minimums of mowing, fertilizing and irritating turfgrass, became one of the most-cited papers in the journal.

“It means a lot,” Leinauer said. “It’s actually the first time that one of our papers comes back and gets acknowledged as one of the most-cited papers. When you look at our research in general, our turfgrass research overall deals with water conservation – looking at how you can maintain and grow green grass with the minimum amount of water. That’s been our research and, in that area, I’d say our program ranks among the top in the country based on output and grant funding. Water conservation is important, because without water conservation, you can’t grow grass anymore.”

To view the articles, visit https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ael2.20032?elqCampaignId=37393&elqTrack=true&elq_cid=16049573&elq_mid=59020&utm_campaign=37393&utm_content=EM1-B1-mediumemail&ut86_mute_97=source=mediumemail&ut86_muted922-TopCitedMR22-source eloqua email.

For more on the Turfgrass, Research and Education program at NMSU, visit https://aces.nmsu.edu/programs/turf/.

“EYE ON RESEARCH” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by Tatiana Favela of NMSU Marketing and Communications. You can be reached at 575-646-7953 or [email protected]

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