July 22, 2013

Farmers and Groundskeepers—Dedicated Curators of their Field 

By Mike Karst, Senior Partner, Entira

There are no greater stewards of land than the ones whose work revolves around a field.

You know, corn fields. Wheat fields. Football fields.

Of course farmers fit into this category. And so do those who manage sports fields or golf courses. The dedication, care and precision with which they manage their grounds for outdoor sports play matches that of a farmer cultivating his land for his role in feeding the world.

Whether we’re talking about a farmer, golf course superintendent, or grounds manager of any sports field, there is a similar frame of mind at play. What they do is not a job to them—it’s a commitment to a way of life. They take tremendous pride in the quality of their field. They can be overwhelmed by the myriad of solutions to problems like weeds, pests, water…and football cleats.

While there may not be an agronomic solution to prevent damage by football cleats or golf club divots, groundskeepers frequently lean on suppliers of chemicals and other products to advise them on issues pertaining to water, weed and pest management, and other treatments that keep everything green and thriving—kind of like the way farmers rely on their suppliers.

There are some interesting parallels between these two different kinds of curators of fields:

  • They are never “off the clock.” Their work doesn’t stop at 5 p.m. Friday, or when the game is over and the lights are off. It doesn’t sit quietly over the weekend, waiting for them to return Monday morning and pick up where they left off. And there’s really no “off season”—it’s the in-between time that the field is prepped to perform its best once the first pitch is thrown and during the season that follows.
  • Appearance is a big deal. Just as farmers will use treatments and inputs to achieve consistently high yields across the field, a grounds manager will do the same to achieve a uniform, highly manicured turf. Both are likely to employ precision practices to get that uniformity—for example, using soil mapping to fine-tune fertilizer applications based on turf conditions. The benefit for golf course superintendents is that they can make adjustments at almost any time during the year. Farmers don’t exactly have that luxury.
  • Stewards of the land. Sustainability is in everyone’s vernacular—finding effective inputs that give you the results you want while also being good for the land, air and water. It doesn’t matter if it’s a food crop or turf grass that’s being sown into the ground, both use great care in cultivating the land to grow something that’s good for the earth.
  • Science plays an integral role. They share the same nemeses—weeds, pests, weather, water, you name it. They also share the same heroes—golf course and sports field managers certainly rely on agronomists to help diagnose and treat problems, as well as supplier reps to get the right treatments to achieve the desired uniform landscape across the field.
  • The same worries keep them awake at night. Weather is high on the list, always being at its mercy. Like a farmer, golf course superintendents and grounds managers keep one eye to the sky, wondering each day what mother nature has in store, then dealing with what she gives. Too much or too little rain can lead to devastation. Infestation of tricky pests can as well.
  • They track the same regulatory issues. Any legislation or policies pertaining to fertilizer, pest management, labor and immigration are high on both grounds managers and farmers’ radars.
  • Technology is evolving rapidly. They need a trusted advisor now more than ever before to help navigate technology. Field managers are looking to be more precise and efficient with smart devices and sensors to maximize efficiency of things like irrigation systems. And just like farmers connect remotely with their field, superintendents can connect their course to their tablet or smartphone for remote monitoring and management. 

Then of course there’s Murphy’s Law, which you can count on whether your field is of the crop or sports variety. Like when the farmer is frantically rounding up escaped cattle from his soybean field on the morning of his daughter’s wedding day, the groundskeeper can easily be chasing away a gaggle of geese from the 5th green when the big tournament is about to tee off. It always happens. 

There’s a great deal of complexity in managing turf spaces, whether for a sports field, golf course, or other venue where the “green space” is central. This is an understudied area that needs more insight, so Entira is launching an in-depth market research study on golf course maintenance this fall to help suppliers who serve these areas better understand what’s on their minds. We’ll be talking to golf course superintendents about their perceptions of the turf chemical industry, how they make purchasing decisions, what drives them to try new products, and their priorities for the future. You can read the study summary for more information, or request a prospectus online. You can also contact me at 901.734.3245 or mkarst@entira.net to discuss the possibility of becoming a subscriber.