There are many turf varieties available on the market, and even more that have come and gone over the years. Many people ask the question, “how are new turf varieties selected?” There are several different ways in which new strains of turf grass are ‘found,’ ‘bred’ or ‘created,’ with the aim to find a new strain of turf which offers benefits over what is currently available.
The process of bringing a new turf variety to market can take many years, up to a decade or more.
Most new turf varieties in this day and age are bred by Universities or by private turf grass breeders as opposed to years ago when turf grasses were found growing naturally in the environment. Most institutions that breed turf grasses now, invest hundreds of thousands of dollars annually into their programs. These programs can often take several years to develop grasses worthy of taking to the next stage of testing. The breeding process itself involves many different pollination methods depending on the breeder and also the variety of grass.
Once varieties are selected, they undergo the main phase of testing to see how they perform in real world scenarios. Depending on the program, this process can be a comparison between 5 different varieties or 50,000 different varieties.
What generally happens is sample plots of each variety are grown out and then analysed. This can occur over a long period of time, generally 3-5 years. These plots are starved of fertilisation and irrigation to see how each different strain survives and performs in adverse conditions. The initial trials that the breeders partake in depend on the end goal of the trial. For example, during the breeding of TifTuf, the University of Georgia’s goal was to find an exceptionally drought tolerant grass. So the initial phase of that trial was to see how the tested cultivars performed in periods of prolonged drought.
Drought testing trials are usually studied over multiple seasons, lasting on average 2-3 years.
Once this trial is completed, over a varying period of time the selection process narrows down the testing numbers. A sample of the best performing grasses are then taken to the next stage.
The next stage of testing drills down beyond what the initial round of testing does, by analysing growth habits, rhizome and stolon production, shade tolerance, wear tolerance and aesthetics. This is completed on larger plots than the original trial with less varieties involved. It also involves comparing with varieties that are already available on the market. Similar to the previous testing phase, this can take years to complete and find a few clear standout varieties.
Once this process is narrowed down to the best performing turf varieties, before they are provided to consumers, they undertake further vigorous testing to truly find the best of the best. Not only does this last round of testing aim to mimic real world scenarios, the varieties are also put through production and maintenance trials including harvesting trials, chemical tolerance trials and fertiliser response trials. This is a crucial phase, as the best performing turf grass in the early stage of the trial may not harvest well or have a good tolerance to chemicals which makes it impossible for producers to grow and harvest efficiently. This final testing phase is often conducted by the Universities or other external turf evaluation companies such as the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI).
After all of this testing you may be left with 1 or 2 stand out performers (sometimes none) that have qualities superior to anything else available on the market – grasses like TifTuf Hybrid Bermuda and Sir Grange Zoysia. These grasses after years of testing in the US, were selected for further trials in Australian conditions. The quarantine process for the initial batch of these varieties to start testing in Australia was up to 16 months.