Home Environmental Making The Grass Greener in South Florida With Less Water – Opinion

Making The Grass Greener in South Florida With Less Water – Opinion

The nation’s largest irrigated crop is grown by amateurs. That’s just about anyone who has a lawn.

We need pros, because the way we grow grass has to change. These pros – public scientists – dedicate themselves to keeping lawns green – both environmentally and aesthetically. With perhaps millions more lawns in our future, these efforts put them in the vanguard of efforts to protect our water supply.

The way I see it, one of two things must happen. Either you have to change, or scientists must innovate our way to low-impact lawns.

Yeah, I like door #2 as well. We all want a cleaner environment. But we’re unlikely to give up our favorite patch of green or put lots more time and effort into maintaining it in a more planet-friendly way.

We have to make the environmentally friendly thing a convenient thing. Public scientists are doing that.

Public support for agricultural science just allowed me to add another top-notch turf scientist to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Marco Schiavon develops the science of growing turf with as little water as possible. He got plenty of practice where he was before we hired him – California. If Schiavon can help Floridians keep lawns green with minimal water or even without irrigation, we have a better chance of avoiding California-style government programs that spend public dollars on ripping out turf.

As a scientist at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, he joins a team in South Florida and beyond dedicated not just to your lawn but to your kids’ and grandkids’ yards.

That team includes Kevin Kenworthy, who led a multi-state team of 23 scientists breeding drought-tolerant grass. You’ll love Kenworthy’s CitraBlue™ for its deep color and its ability to handle shade. The planet will love that it needs less water and fewer pesticides.

Bryan Unruh is not just the go-to turfgrass scientist in Florida but nationally renowned. He wrote the book on maintaining golf course grass with the least environmental impact. Nearly two-thirds of the states, including Florida, have adopted it as the standard.

Eban Bean works with developers to till the soil with compost before they lay down lawn and landscape, creating spongy ground that holds more water at hundreds of homes at a time. AJ Reisinger is testing how much nitrogen and phosphorus leaks into the groundwater through existing yards and investigating whether fertilizer alternatives reduce those leaks.

Adam Dale is researching whether mixing grasses in a lawn can substitute for pesticides by attracting good bugs that keep the bad ones at bay. At the same time, he is working with the turf industry to gauge whether the look of such a lawn will turn off customers.

Hayk Khachatryan uses eye-tracking glasses with consumers for clues into whether they like the virtual lawns they see. He seeks to understand preferences and willingness to pay for environmentally friendly landscape attributes.

Laurie Trenholm trains a statewide network of UF/IFAS Extension agents who in turn help solve turfgrass problems in their communities from Naples to Fort Lauderdale.

You pay taxes to build this team of solution seekers and their labs. You can’t do this overnight. And you certainly can’t leave it to amateurs.

UF/IFAS is your local university, no matter how far you live from Gainesville. It has an Extension office in every Florida county and a research center in every region. Every site is a gateway into a university of turf pros.

The grass can be greener in South Florida, and so can the planet. Your support for public science helps us get there.

The future is likely to include reliance on affordable technology that puts an end to rainy-day watering. It may include a recipe for soil that eats all the fertilizer given it instead of leaking some into the ground below. It will certainly include new breeds of grass.

Fortunately, we’ve got most of the team built to achieve that future. They spend their days making your lawns ever more maintenance free so you’re free to do things more exciting than watching grass grow.

Jack Payne

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.