Since 2013 Lawn Solutions Australia (LSA) has operated the largest turfgrass Research and Development facility in Australia. This facility, located in Berry NSW, is in place to ensure Lawn Solutions Australia remains as the benchmark for new and improved turfgrass varieties. It is often unknown what a facility like this looks like, and what it actually does to better the turf industry. I will take you through what is involved and what it has taken to develop this facility that has housed hundreds of different turf varieties.
Developing or breeding new turfgrass types is a very extensive and expensive process. There was no turfgrass breeding institution in Australia of any magnitude, so LSA took it upon itself to form relationships with leading institutions in other parts of the world. Over the past decade, LSA has formed strong relationships with the University of Georgia who have bred world-renowned couch grasses like TifTuf, TifSport, TifEagle, Tifway 419, and TifGrand. LSA has also formed a relationship with the largest private turf grass breeder in the world ‘Blade Runner Farms,’ who’s focus is predominantly on Zoysia Grass.
By forming these relationships, LSA has direct access to the leading new and improved turf cultivars as they become available. These relationships are of critical importance and are the backbone behind our R&D program here. To begin the evaluation of turfgrasses, the LSA research team head over to visit these institutions to observe their programs and material. From there a brief will be formed to let them know what type of turf grasses we are looking for and the traits they must have. This will generally include the texture, colour, desirable traits including shade, drought and wear tolerance and also the speed of growth. This brief will then give these institutions an accurate idea of what species from the program we are looking to import into Australia. Once a selection of cultivars has been picked by the breeders, the importation and quarantine process begins.
The importation process for turf grasses is long, complex, and quite expensive. To get a turf grass into Australia all the importation paperwork must be lodged with the Department of Agriculture. Once approved, a small sample of each cultivar is shipped over and placed in a Government run quarantine facility. It is here that these grasses are potted and go through the rigours of quarantine testing. These tests ensure no foreign pests or diseases are present on the plant material. Once complete, they are placed in a propagation facility. This is to ensure they grow to a suitable size where they can be nurtured back to health. This process takes between 6 and 12 months generally, and at the end of the process, LSA can collect the 8-inch pots of the new varieties.
At this stage of the R&D cycle, the process gets even trickier. From the 8-inch pots received out of quarantine, you then have to ensure its survival (sometimes there can be 60 of them!). Then the team can begin to propagate them so there is enough stock to plant an area out and analyse its performance. Once planted out, they can then be monitored and scored for its grow-in speed, turf colour, turf quality, and seed head production for example.
There is US data on these traits, but since our climate differs so greatly, it’s important that local reporting and data is collected across multiple testing locations across Australia. Once grown, these different varieties can be analysed even further and begin to conduct herbicide tolerance trials and harvesting trials. The tricky thing about this process if you can have a grass that looks and grows great, but if it doesn’t tolerate herbicides or doesn’t harvest well, then it is back to square one.
This process helps us to reduce our selection number down to just a handful of the best grasses from each import. This entire process takes many years and leads us to fantastic new turf grass varieties like TifTuf Hybrid Bermuda and Sir Grange Zoysia.
Further to the above, the day to day happenings at the Lawn Solutions Australia R&D facility is varied. There are a number of dedicated staff maintaining this facility and conducting research on various grasses. This facility is also replicated in other areas of Australia including the Hunter Valley, Victoria, Brisbane, and Cairns to ensure turfgrasses that are released work in all climates.
Turf grasses within the facility are maintained differently as per their requirements. Zoysia’s for example are fertilised less and mown less to couches and buffalos. Some zoysia grasses, due to their slow growth nature are left unmown. Other zoysias that are bred for golf greens are maintained at heights of 4mm and have much higher maintenance requirements. There are also hot houses dedicated to the advanced propagation of material when required. These hot houses contain originals of every cultivar we have had under trial, so there is always plant material to refer back to if and when issues arise with purity.
The R&D Facility is also used to conduct fertiliser trials on different varieties of turf. This is to see what product at what rate will provide the best results to that particular cultivar, so the nutrient requirements for the particular variety of grass can be understood.
LSA also work closely with the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) who are a world-leading turfgrass research company whose Australian HQ is located in South East Queensland. STRI enter into extensive trial work on LSA products, often taking 2-3 years to complete. For example, they are currently working on a TifTuf Hybrid Bermuda vs Kikuyu trial to see how they each compare to each other under drought, shade and wear stress. They have previously completed a 2-year trial on all available couch grasses, measuring shade and drought tolerance and recovery from wear and tear.
The data that can be extracted from these trials ensure Lawn Solutions Australia members are on the cutting edge when it comes to turfgrass technologies. The relationships LSA has with world class turf breeders provides first access to the latest and greatest turfgrass varieties on the market. The work conducted with facilities such as STRI ensure the varieties selected will excel in all Australian environments.