November 2013

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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Page 33 of 47

FieldScience GRADUATE STUDENT NORMA FLOR screens zoysiagrass for large patch response in a growth chamber. Photo: Kevin Kenworthy, University of Florida The future of turfgrass research L IKE MOST COMPANIES and individuals in today's economy, turfgrass breeders are expected to do increasingly more with less . . . more in the way of developing increasingly sustainable varieties in a climate that is literally changing . . . with less funding due to budget cuts in both public and private sectors. And it is clear that continued drought in some areas is having a lasting effect on how breeders view the future. Given all of this, where will we see turfgrass breeding headed, how will it be funded and how will it affect turfgrass sod producers? To gain some insight, Turf News, the publication of Turfgrass Producers International, asked a number of turfgrass breeders in both public and private sectors a few questions. Turf News wishes to thank the following individuals for responding: • Keenan Amundsen, University of Nebraska • Ambika Chandra, Texas A&M • Doug Brede, Jacklin Seed of the J.R. Simplot Co. • Milt Engelke, Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M • Bingru Huang, Rutgers University • Melodee Fraser, Pure Seed Testing 34 SportsTurf | November 2013 • Kevin Kenworthy, University of Florida • Brian Schwartz, University of Georgia • Eric Watkins, University of Minnesota • Joseph Wipff, Barenbrug USA, Inc. Where do you think we will see turfgrass breeding moving forward? Will it be focused on particular traits and, if so, which traits? Chandra: A lot more needs to be done. The changing climate, including extreme temperatures and recurring droughts, as well as the shortage and increasing cost of potable water plus evolving pathogens and insects, require continued work for more sustainable turfgrass production systems. Different turfgrass species have their unique sets of strengths and weaknesses. Depending on intended use, region of adaptation and consumer preference, breeders are focusing on improving different traits in different species. Ball roll, divot recovery, thatch management, shade and traffic tolerance, for example, may be of more importance to golf course superintendents whereas shade tolerance, drought and disease/insect resistance may be more valuable to homeowners. Growing grasses in the transition zone presents its own challenges, especially in dealing with extreme temperatures. Regardless, everyone wants a grass that looks and feels good, and that they do not have to mow as often. Therefore, dwarf varieties with higher establishment and recovery rates are very desirable. Engelke: Consumers pay more for water on a per gallon basis than they do for oil. Therefore, we must focus on drought tolerance and low water consumption. The South already has been dealing with a long-lasting drought and some communities are reaching the stage where no watering will be allowed. We also need to look at salt tolerance. Salinity becomes a problem when we do not have rain for extended periods. In this case, salt rises to the surface and concentrates in the crown of the plants and kills either the plant or the soil. Turfgrass then no longer has moisture or oxygen needed to grow. In these types of conditions, even halophytic plants can die. At the same time, those who say that turfgrass uses too much water must be reminded of the many benefits of turfgrass, such as soil stabilization, cooling attributes, and the purification of water through grass's filtering effects. Wipff: Water use efficiency; improved ability to use less than optimal quality water and effluent water; improved salinity tolerance; faster establishment; and reduced overall maintenance requirements will continue to be highly desired and sought after traits. Another often overlooked trait and not widely considered by the end-user is the need for improved seed yields. Without higher seed yield and a strong dollar return per acre of seed production, the turfgrass seed industry will continue to find difficulty competing for production acres with food, forage, energy, and other high value crops. Amundsen: The big traits of concern these days are based on water issues, especially given last year's widespread drought. Drought tolerance and water use efficiency are key. Other traits of interest include salt tolerance, cold and heat tolerance, disease and insect resistance, and nutrient use efficiency. Breeding programs continue to focus on traits that are important for the turf industry (e.g, canopy density, color, uniformity, mowing tolerance, wear tolerance, recovery from damage), but there has been more focus toward biotic and abiotic stress tolerance over the past few decades and these traits will be at the forefront of breeding efforts in the next couple of decades. I believe the next big advancement will come from the implementation of genetic tools that will allow us to evaluate and advance populations of plants more efficiently and cost effectively .This is not necessarily an advance in turfgrass breeding specifically, but new technology should allow us to maximize increasingly limited resources for turf improvement. Huang: We will see more work on improving traits for stress resistance, and for more efficient use of water and fertilizers. Brede: The plant breeding process is not linear.

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