Episode 10: Less Irrigation—Is It Always Better For The Environment?

Episode 10: Less irrigation: Is it always better for the environment?

What does a world renowned turf scientist think about artificial turf? How about xeriscaping? You might be surprised. Dr. Bryan Hopkins shares his latest experimental results using the newest techniques in water management for both turf and row crops. Get his views on the latest advancements in irrigation technology in both urban and agricultural settings.


Bryan Hopkins, PhD, is a professor in the Plant & Wildlife Sciences department at Brigham Young University.

Links to learn more about Dr. Bryan Hopkins:


Our scientists have decades of experience helping researchers and growers measure the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum.


The views and opinions expressed in the podcast and on this posting are those of the individual speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions held by METER.


see all podcasts

Episode 9: Pioneers of environmental measurement

What was the life of a scientist like before modern environmental measurement techniques? Pretty much like the Wild West. Find out what it was like to practice science on the cutting edge.


Episode 8: Ranching, wildfires, & global sustainability

Dr. Richard Gill discusses his global research projects including climate change on the Wasatch Plateau, ranch sustainability in Colorado, reef studies in Samoa, and wildfires in the Mojave Desert.


Episode 7: Ticking time bomb—climate change in Antarctica

Dr. Marco Bittelli, soil physics wizard, talks about his exciting research projects in Italy and Antarctica. Plus, he shares insights on cutting-edge measurement methods, climate change, jazz guitar music, and more.


An abstract illustration of multiple green dots of different shades above faint grey dots with a faint lines connected a few of the dots

Grow your expertise with the latest podcasts

Receive the newest content on a regular basis.



Hello everybody and welcome to we measure the world, a podcast produced by scientists for scientists.


I was working with a sod farm, and we did all these treatments of irrigation and fertilizer. And we had some just clear differences, clearly better solutions. You could see it, we measure it, we show the date. So So I’m sitting there and I’m talking to the guy who owns the sod farm. He is all on board. And he has a consultant that works for him, though, that is not convinced. And he was trying to tell us that it wasn’t too wet. And so I said, Okay, let’s just walk out there and look around. I walked him right past an area that I knew that he had been way over watering, and had just been recently planted. And I knew just where to walk to not think in the mind, but he did. And as we walked across the air, he literally stuck up to his knees in mud. And I just turned him and I said, What do you think now? And he kind of smiled at me and he said, Okay, you’re right, maybe we could cut back the water a little bit.


That’s just a small taste of what we have in store for you today. We measure the world explores interesting environmental research trends, solutions to research issues, and tools to better understand the entire soil plant atmosphere continually stay current on applied environmental research, measurement methods and more. Thanks for joining us. Today’s guest is Dr. Bryan Hopkins, a professor in the plant and wildlife sciences department at Brigham Young University. Dr. Hopkins received his PhD in agronomy at Kansas State University is a professional soil scientist certified by the Soil Science Society of America, and has received numerous awards for his contributions to the field of agronomy and soil science. He is internationally recognized as an expert in plant nutrition and soil fertility and urban and agricultural systems. His research is focused on nutrients, Soil and Water Science as they impact society and the environment. He has authored over 100 peer reviewed publications, as well as hundreds of extension and research reports. Today, he’s here to talk to us about his turfgrass research.


I started a landscape company when I was about 20 years old, and I made some mistakes, and decided to take some classes and I really fell in love with soil science. And I ended up getting a PhD in soil science, if you can believe that I have worked in the industry as in both private industry. And then in academia, a lot of professors start in academia and then go into private industry, I actually went the other way, I started in private industry and went into academia, because frankly, I really love research, I love discovery, I do work and grow crops, as well as turf grass, and more and more spending time in the turf grass world looking at ways to improve the environment. I’m pretty passionate about those kinds of things, I think it’s really important to have plants in the environment. Some people’s solutions to some of the environmental problems that we have in the world are to get rid of the plants, which is ridiculous. We need plants, plants help provide oxygen and they sequester carbon into the soils. And they do so many things for us, including mental health in the urban environment. There’s a list of about two dozen things that I included in a recent publication of reasons why we should have plants. So the problem is is that doesn’t come without cost in terms of both financial as well as environmental. And so our research is really focused on being able to have plants. But how do we do that without these negative impacts. There’s there’s nutrient pollution issues in the world in terms of both water and air pollution. And there’s also problems with water, especially here in the Western United States. We’ve got serious droughts, and we’ve got to learn how to do this more efficiently.


I think we’ll come back to that idea or the topic of droughts and mega droughts and other things later on in our discussion here. So can you introduce us then to this specific turfgrass project that’s going on at BYU? How did that all get started?


I started using meter equipment, which at that time was Decagon many decades ago in some of my potato research. A few years ago though, we started this turf grass project where we established this research with these new TEROS 21 sensors and, and at first it was more or less a demonstration just, just to see how it work in a turf grass system. I’ll be honest with you at the time, I thought I was pretty good irrigator I thought I’m really good at this. I teach it for goodness sakes. And what I discovered using the sensors is that I was not a good irrigator and that we were wasting a lot of water which wastes nutrients and it can even move pesticides out of the system. And so it allowed us to start fine tuning our irrigation and then that once we kind of worked through some just initial demonstration it actually ended up moving into several research projects where we’re looking at how best to irrigate turf grass, how that interacts with nutrients, and what that means in terms of drought response.


So with this project, you talked about TEROS 21 sensors, which measure water potential, are there any other measurements that you’re that you’re taking in these or that you’re focusing on in these projects,


we are looking at a lot of measurements, probably a couple dozen measurements on each project, everything from looking at various measures of soil moisture, we’ll take gravimetric measurements in terms of water content, as well as we’re using some sensors. For water content, we’ve actually discovered that the combination of the water potential sensors, with the water content sensors, actually gives us some really valuable information that is extremely helpful in terms of making those irrigation decisions. We’re also looking at a lot of biological measurements in terms of, for example, normalized difference vegetation, index NDVI. We’re looking at canopy temperatures, what the effect is and turn on growth in terms of shoot root growth, root depth, those types of things.


You talked about how this has been influencing how you irrigate? Are you doing fertigation? As well as? Or is this just strictly irrigation with nutrients added separately? Is that correct?


Yeah. So as of now, our research is not including fertigation. But we do have some trials where we are looking at fertilizer applications in terms of both dry granular type of fertilizers as well as some liquid fertilizers. And, of course, that would really be highly correlated to fertigation. And we are interested in using fertigation as an option in conjunction with these research trials.


So what are some of the challenges then that you’re facing in this kind of research, probably the


biggest challenge in the turfgrass world is variability in terms of the irrigation systems. So for example, we have a project on BYU’s LaVell Edwards stadium field. And we’ve installed two nests of sensors in two distinct areas of the field, we asked the field manager John quest to identify the kind of a perpetually dry part of the field. And so we installed some sensors there. And then we said, let’s put the other nest of sensors in an area that’s more typical. So we could measure the variability. So the problem with that is that we are seeing that variability, but the system, you know, kind of irrigates. And if unless you’re willing to go out there and drag a hose and kind of spot irrigate, it’s really not conducive to actually saving water. Now we’re working our, in my company, as well as in my research, we’re working on some things that would potentially look at making that possible, the technology is here now, to be able to variable rate irrigate better in these fields. And we’re also doing some variable rate irrigation work in conjunction with METER Group and in crops. And we’ve found some really phenomenal findings. And that’s coupled with some variable rate technology that is really cutting edge in terms of farm fields, you know, installing a variable rate irrigation system, where I can essentially dial the water up or down at any particular spot in the field, not having that capability in most urban systems is a problem. The technology’s here, we’ve got several things that would allow us to do that. And so I don’t think it’s that far out. But we’re sort of looking forward at that and saying, okay, someday, when this is more common, how are we going to control the system in terms of being able to say, Okay, this is a dry spot, and exactly how dry is it and isn’t ready to be irrigated, and then just turn the water on and that spot versus turning on the water on the entire area.


So what do you think are some of the roadblocks if the technology is here for allowing that technology to expand outside of just research projects or places where people have the money or the the ability to install something like that?


I’m on this tour right now going around the country, taking samples and visiting with various professional and collegiate field managers, and you know, and they often say to me, you know, this is working well for me, and I really am not comfortable making any changes, because there’s too much on the line. They have a system that works, they know it’s not ideal. But it works. And if you’re the grounds manager for an NFL team, for example, you know, that field has got to not only look great, but it’s got to perform really well, or you’re going to hear about a potential lose your job. So that’s an issue, just having the end users recognize that the technology is valuable, and it would work and wouldn’t be a step backwards for them. Of course, budgets are always a roadblock. The other thing, too, is just skepticism. You know, we get folks claiming all sorts of things. And I’m skeptical, too, when I hear about new technology, you know, we wind up doing the research, and I’d say, 99% of the stuff that we test, it doesn’t deliver exactly what’s promised. And so there’s a healthy level of skepticism out there. And that’s the case with this type of technology, too. It’s like, “well, does it really work?”. So my job as researcher is to figure that out and to measure the effects. And to be able to then, you know, teach the folks that, hey, this is a system that works. But then it takes some adoption time to get where it’s going to actually make a difference. And people are going to use that technology


in what you’ve seen with your, with your research, and then going and visiting these other places. Are some of these issues mainly dealing with over watering, or under watering, or is there any pattern that you’re seeing in what they’re doing and what they could improve upon?


Yeah, everybody over waters. And everybody over fertilizers too. And that’s something that’s a little unique about me. I’m actually a soil chemist and not a soil physicist, and I come about this from the chemistry the nutrition side of it, those two things go hand in hand, though. And if I’m over irrigating, it’s also negatively impacting my plant nutrition. And so that’s of interest to me. And we ended up again, we ended up leaching nutrients into the groundwater, or they end up running off into surface water, or they end up in the atmosphere in the case of nitrogen, for example, and all those are pollutants. So we don’t, we don’t want that. And plus, we’re just being wasteful. It takes natural resources to create these fertilizers. And of course, water is valuable and increasingly scarce. So we’ve got to figure out ways to do it more efficiently. So our data shows and not not just my data, but other scientists data shows that the average homeowner puts on two to three times more water than what they need. My experience in sports turf is that it’s probably even higher than that. It’s similar in golf, I think that there typically are three to four times too much water.


How then does does over watering or over fertilizing affects the the turf grass itself,


over fertilizing and over watering can have a negative effect. A lot of times we can get away with it. And we’ll have you know, green grass, and we think everything’s okay. Our data, though, shows that the longevity of the grass declines, you get shallower roots, which then requires more water, if I’m saturated, the roots need oxygen, and they just won’t grow deep in the saturated soil, they tend to stay in the top two or three inches where they can get a little bit oxygen from the atmosphere. So that’s a problem. It just feeds back into itself as that grass plant is trying to survive, and it just stays shallow. So it might be green. But then when it gets really hot, it’s very susceptible, it’s more likely to have some flashes of dormancy that occur in an area, we only see it all the time in the middle of summer, you’ll get a brown patch that develops, the grass isn’t dead, it’s just slid into dormancy. And it’s usually because I’ve got really shallow roots because of over watering. And then excess fertilizer, though is also a problem. Again, there’s the environmental issues. But in terms of the health of the plant, it’s not good to have too much nitrogen, nitrogen is really the big ticket item. It’s the number one in terms of impact. excess nitrogen causes excess chute growth at the expense of root growth, it also can result in more diseases, I can get more damaged from insects. And of course, deficiencies are a problem. But most of the time I’m not running into deficiencies. Usually it’s not a lack of fertilization, it’s over fertilization. Phosphorus would be another example. It’s a macronutrient like nitrogen. And the average sports turf manager the average homeowner has over applied phosphorus to the point where it can actually become toxic. We can create phosphorus induced micronutrient deficiencies. And so one of the things we focus on is is doing soil testing, making sure that I’m applying the right amount of nutrients. But in the case, especially nitrogen, if I’m not doing the water, right, it actually makes doing the fertilization a real problem.


How then does that affect the performance of the turf itself?


For the average lawn that’s not subject to a lot of traffic like my front lawn, for example. It’s mostly an aesthetics thing. Of course, I can have some other performance issues and In terms of it not looking well or it can become more compacted and those kinds of things. That’s probably one of the bigger problems with overwatering. Also a higher incidence of disease in terms of performance of a surface that requires, you know, very excellent footing. And having a really tight knit surface like in football is one of my specialties. We it’s one of the most demanding, because I have to have a surface that players can just turn on and cut and without, without having an injury to them and without slipping. And it’s it’s got to perform well. So by having shallow roots, that grass is more likely to tear out it’s more likely to cause injuries to these athletes, we get a lot of injuries every year in the sports turf world because of the surface, it’s important to water right and fertilize right so that I get a nice tight surface. I have a lot of plants per square foot, and also good rooting depth and knitted together so that it’s stable.


Are there any particular varieties of grasses that perform better, for instance, at a football field versus a golf course. And these are more than likely different varieties than you’d see maybe in your lawns as a homeowner?


Let me back up and talk about species first. So that’s a really interesting thing. Number one species of grass in the world is Kentucky Bluegrass, which is a cool season grass. Number one warm season grass in the southern United States and other warm regions of the world is Bermuda grass. So there’s a huge difference between these two because of climate change. It’s getting warmer. My thermometer over the last few years shows that in you know, like in Provo, Utah where I’m where I live, the climate is getting warmer, and it’s more and more difficult to grow Kentucky Bluegrass, and it takes more water to grow Kentucky bluegrass and so we’re actually looking in Provo at Bermuda grass. And as I go around the country, I’m seeing more and more places where Bermuda grass is starting to be grown and other warm season grasses are being grown further north. Which is a good thing for the water part of this because our data is showing that we need less water and also they root deeper and Bermuda grass tends to be a better surface to play sports on for example, it’s got its problems and the nice thing about Kentucky Bluegrass is it doesn’t get too patchy. Form a thatch Thatch is a normal part of what turfgrass develops. And the Bluegrass breeders have pretty well taken that mostly out of it we still get a little thatch but it’s usually not a problem Bermuda grass is a really bad problem with thatch, as is bent grass so like on golf course greens bent grass is the most common. So all those are considerations when we’re looking at this but from you know, from a water standpoint, I’m I’m particularly interested in seeing more and more blue grass being replaced with Bermuda grass or other warm season grasses. We really liked that.


Do you ever have to deal with other species or varieties of grass becoming entrenched in the fields themselves?


The biggest problem in sports turf and golf is annual bluegrass, there are scientists doing research like at Penn State, for example, they’re they’re actually trying to convert annual bluegrass into a usable grass actually performs pretty well in golf greens, some challenges to getting that to market in terms of being able to grow enough seed those kinds of things. But yeah, that’s that’s really the biggest problem in sports turf is annual bluegrass. And the reason is because we’re mowing it shorter than it wants to be mowed. And annual bluegrass is opportunistic, and so it just becomes a problem. If you watch any kind of sports, you’ll see these little patches of yellow out there and that’s annual bluegrass. In my yard there’s all kinds of grasses that will find their way in there. Crabgrass would be an example or quackgrass, or even other, like sometimes we’ll get bent grass, you know, even though that’s a desirable species on a golf green. I don’t want bent grass in my yard, they become weeds basically,


coming back to your research. What are some of the results that you’re seeing? And what are the next steps that you’re hoping to implement?


My research partner, Dr. Neil Hansen, he’s more of a soil physicist. So he has his kind of research goals, we have a long list of things that we’d like to do. I could summarize them in saying that, using a combination of the water potential sensors with water content sensors, helped me better determine when I need to irrigate, it allows me to let a little bit of oxygen enter the root zone before I turn that irrigation system back on, which is going to make it healthier grass, where we’re trying to go with this is getting to a point and I’m going to steal an analogy from Colin Campbell. He talks about using a thermostat, you know, so 100 years ago, you know, how did you control the temperature in your house? I mean, everybody intuitively knows if it’s cold or warm, and, you know, so back then when you’re heating with your fireplace or a coal furnace, you know, you just you feel a little cold to go throw a little more on, but how much you know how much you put on, you know how much cold you put in the, in the stove. And it wasn’t really very sophisticated. So long story short, you know, we’ve developed these sophisticated systems with a thermostat. And it knows it’s smart, it just says, Hey, it’s now cold. And I’m going to turn myself on and heat the room up a little bit. And then if I personally feel like, you know, I just would like to be a little bit warmer, I can go bump it up a degree. And it has, so I still have control over the system. We are kind of today, where we were 100 years ago with interior heating. Today in the turfgrass world, we’re pretty archaic. You know, we don’t have that sophisticated of a system. Now we do have, you know, sensors available, but nobody’s really using them. Not very many, I mean, some are. But the average, the average manager of turfgrass is not using that type of a system, most of us have an automated sprinkler system. And most of the time, it’s set on a timer. But that’s not good, you know, and now we’re getting smart controllers now, though, that, that we’ve done a bunch of research on in cooperation with Utah State, showing that they are pretty effective, if so if it’s cooler, or if it got a little rain, it’ll delay turning on the system. So that’s becoming pretty common place. But what’s lacking is, is putting the sensor in because those systems are kind of guessing, based on what you know, the weather is And and frankly, unless you have a weather station connected up to your system right at your place, it’s looking at the average well, at my house, it might rain at my office and not rain at my home. And so putting a sensor in the soil, or maybe even a couple of nests of sensors in the soil would help inform the system when to turn on or not. So that’s really where we want to go. And then the step after that is even more calibrated to do the variable rate irrigation is being able to sense dry spots in the landscape, and just turn on the water in those places. If we did all of that we can easily use about a third of the water that we’re currently using in the urban landscape.


What are some, I guess more practical applications for the Layperson? Is it just simply, you know, not watering as much or watering at certain times of the day? Do we all need to move to zero scaping and that sort of thing.


Yeah, I kind of hate xeriscaping. I love plants. I don’t want to live in a concrete jungle. I go to places that travel a lot. And I see places that don’t have many plants in urban landscape. And it’s very ugly, and it’s hot. Plants help cool the environment. And there’s 100 reasons why we want to have plants in the environment. I teach turfgrass science. I’m the turf guy at BYU and yet I have less grass than anybody in my neighborhood. Because grass is actually a bit of a water hog. It’s shallow rooted, it takes more water. So I have just kind of a minimum amount of grass. In fact, this last summer, I took out the parking strips that had grass in them in front of my house. Those are really narrow strips, like four feet wide. You know, about a third of the water ends up on the sidewalk and run down the gutter. It’s just incredibly wasteful, and it’s not a usable space. So I took that out and I put in what I would call instead of zero escaping, I put in a waterways landscape, I selected plants that were were pre drought tolerant, and I put in a drip irrigation system. And I’m using about 10% of the water that I was using before and it’s beautiful. It’s a gorgeous, I’ve had tons of compliments on how awesome it looks. So doing those kinds of things make sense? There are resources out there to help kind of cut back so let’s have plants in the landscape. But let’s cut back maybe on the turf grass. I think it’s really important and usually it’s pretty cheap and a lot of communities are providing rebates to put in irrigation controllers that are smart controllers. I think that’s really wise that right there and just stop irrigating every day. It’s one of the things if that even if I’m growing on a pure sand. I’m probably not wanting to irrigate every day. I need to allow that to dry down a little bit. In some places. I could go every five days but I run into commonly. People are irrigating every day. They’re whoever set the irrigation system up, set it up to irrigate everyday. Sometimes they’re irrigating four or five times a day. It’s ridiculous. And it’s just completely wasteful of water so we can just do those kinds of easy things that are not very expensive, and just could cut back the amount of water that you’re using without being very sophisticated


with the traditions of some of these turf managers at football fields, and, and there’s just so much decades of this traditional knowledge, and it’s really difficult to kind of break that cycle. How can we get that ball rolling?


That’s a difficult thing. You know, we’re in this mega drought. And this year was particularly bad. In Utah, for example, our governor said, shut the water off, you know, let your brown your lawns go brown. And I don’t agree, I think that’s not the answer, because then it’s going to be very expensive for me to go out there and re establish my lawn, and it creates opportunities for weeds to take over. It lowers property values, but it’s, it’s not smart to do that, instead, let’s just cut back. You know, if everybody just I think if you just said, Okay, everybody got half as much water as you had last year, that alone would be a solution, you know, it’s like, we don’t need to have the lawns go brown, but let’s let’s use half as much water, or even a third, I get involved with quite a bit of consulting, helping folks with these kinds of things. In every single case, I’ve always been able to have huge water savings, conservatively, getting people down to using about 25% of the water that they were using previously, without going to xeriscaping, you know, I mean, we might include some xeriscaping in the landscape, there might be some areas in the landscape that, like we’ve put in some bark, or some rock or some hardscape. But I’ve still got plants in my landscape, but I’m doing it with a whole lot less water. So I think that maybe they need to start charging a little more for water or providing incentives for folks to take out their parking strips, for example. And some communities are raising the price of water, some communities are providing incentives for smart controllers, or providing incentives for taking out your grass strips. If I was the governor, I think that’s what I would do. To be quite honest with you, you know, I’m talking about turf grass, but the reality is that the vast majority of our water is used in agriculture. And so we absolutely need to be focused in the urban environment of being water conscience. But we really need to look at agriculture and find ways of being water-wise. When, there’s less waste per acre in the farms, and the farmers tend to be more efficient. You know, so the homeowners putting on two to three times more water than they need. Farmers are not that bad, you know, they’re better managers. But there’s still room for improvement in our experience. And in fact, some of our research with mediagroup, we’ve seen some massive savings, we got one research project where the grower is just as ecstatic with I mean, not only did he save water, but he actually made more money, he has a better crop, and he had less costs. And so he was really thrilled with that. So there’s there ways of doing it, but it’s a package deal, we got to look at AG and the urban environment, we need to change some of these laws that are a little archaic, that prevent people from being especially farmers from being water-wise there’s this often a laws in place that say, you know, if you don’t use your water, you’re gonna lose your water rights. Well, there’s no motivation to save water that it’s like, let’s change the water laws so that that person doesn’t have their water rights at risk. And yet, they can get compensated some way or there’s some motivation to conserve water.


I had some questions about the conversation between a lot of places switching to artificial sports turf, from from the natural grasses, are there things that turf managers can do to improve the quality of the turf in the face of this growing artificial turf market?


I feel pretty passionately about this. I’m not a big fan of artificial turf for a variety of reasons. There’s a lot of research that shows that relatively higher injury rates for athletes. And to me, that’s almost number one, if you’ve got significantly higher injury rates for certain types of injuries, that’s a problem. They also are very hot. And it really puts people at risk. We tend to maybe at the professional collegiate levels manage that better. But I’ve had some experiences and could give some stories of young people who are playing sports on artificial surfaces, and it’s too hot. I used to coach high school football, and we had an artificial field and I hated it. It was it made it miserable to be out there. My players hated it. They liked the how pretty it was just kind of I think why people want sort of a status thing. Like oh, we got this great, but it’s no it’s not. Is it a better surface? No, it’s not a better surface unless it’s not managed right now. There are some cases where it’s sort of the only choice like for example, BYU, we have intramural fields and they just just constant activity on them. And it really the artificial surface is about the only choice we have the artificial turf companies are getting better at these surfaces or are better than when I played football that long time ago. They’re much better. But I just am not a big fan overall, because of these potential dangers, it’s not uncommon in the middle of summer for these surfaces to be 150, 160. We’ve even measured at BYU, we’ve measured as high as 190 degrees right at the surface. And that’s hot enough to melt cleats. If I do it, right. I can have just as good or better of a surface for less money or the same money. If we just do it right now, there’s a whole lot that goes into that and, and much more than just water, and fertilizer. But we can do that. And I can show you examples. BYU LaVelle Edwards stadium is a good example. It’s a great surface. It’s impressive. I’ve also, like I said, Coached, high school football, and I’ve been on some terrible surface, it’s criminal, how badly some of these schools are neglecting the surfaces and putting athletes at risk. And so then they see these artificial surfaces as this Oh, we can get? Well, if you just take the same money and hire somebody who knows what they’re doing and get it managed. Right, you can actually have a safer surface. And it can look just as good. There’s certainly some advantage of artificial I mean, one of the and so one, one thing is I don’t have to paint them as often. That’s a huge thing, especially for high school, that’s a big expense. Paint is not cheap. It’s still a little sophisticated to paint it right. But I will admit, there’s definitely pros and cons. So water gets brought up a lot. It’s like, hey, we need to switch over. Because we don’t need to use water on these artificial surfaces. That’s a little bit of a misconception. When we’re doing a build and we end up doing an artificial surface, I recommend having availability of water on the surface. One reason would be to help cool it even though that’s a very temporary effect. It cools, it might last an hour before it heats back up again. But that can be  something that makes it a safer surface. The other thing too, though, is that the soil is great at decomposing things, you know, it’s got all these microbes, and they’re great at taking all these nasties and decomposing them. And the artificial surfaces aren’t good at that. So blood, vomit, sweat, spit, skin, all those things that end up on those surfaces. Those are danger, they represent a danger to participants, and they need to be washed down. Technically, you definitely use less water on an artificial surface, depending on how much play it gets. But on average, you’re going to use less water. But in my argument, it shouldn’t be zero water because of the reasons I’ve cited.


Yeah, I was thinking artificial surfaces might also contribute to heat island effects. We talked earlier about urban environments and trying to incorporate more plants to kind of mitigate that effect. I would assume that bringing in an artificial surface would then exacerbate instead of resolving the issue.


You’re exactly right. It does and, and in fact, it’s even measurable. And there’s been several studies that show you know we talked about conserving water but we’re also interested in conserving energy too, right. And that heat island effect ends up costing us energy. And so I think that it’s smart to have plants in the landscape to help us conserve energy and have less of a heat island effect in the urban environment.


LaVelle Edwards stadium there at BYU has beautiful natural turf. But I know that the baseball field just recently switched over to artificial turf. If I remember, they wanted to be able to plow the field easier so that they can play in early spring. And there would have been a different solution than to mitigate some of these concerns with a natural surface.


Professional Soccer, they only want to talk about artificial. Baseball is kind of in that way. 32 teams, they only have three professional teams that have artificial surfaces, we have data that actually shows that it’s a different game, the ball bounces differently. Like with football, it’s a little bit of a different game. But with a sport like baseball, it’s really very much a different game and with soccer too it’s a different game. And so in some ways to me that’s, that’s not a good thing when you get Home Team Advantage, etcetera. If you give me the same budget, I can get you on that field just as early as you can get on that field. We can do heating systems and artificial we can do them in natural grass. There are several fields that have heating systems, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, for example, have heating systems. Salt Lake in Utah is closer to where I’m at and has a heating system that improves soil conditions. We can use grow blankets, there’s a number of things that we can do. I really kind of question the wisdom of getting out there on that surface. when it’s really cold. Now, if you get a warm day in February, great go out there and we can have that surface playable. A natural grass surface, it can be not muddy, it can be playable, the surface won’t be hard if we put a heating system in it, even if it froze the five days prior. So we can do all that we don’t have to go artificial to be able to have a playable field. So I really reject that argument. I don’t think, again, you give me the same budget, I’ll give you the same or better field, I question a coach that is going to try to get out there and play when it’s really cold, you’re more, you’re more likely to get injuries, it’s not smart, you need to go play indoors. Now, if you again, if you get a really warm day, I can get you out there and we can play on a natural grass surface in February in Provo, Utah, you know, but because, because like you said, you know, you get snow, you see, it doesn’t matter whether it’s artificial, or whether it’s natural, you still gotta plow it off. And I can do that in either case, we do it all the time in both. And so that’s, that’s not an issue. They’re really kind of the hardness of the soil. And we play, we even play on a dormant surfaces. Like for example, this last week, I was at the Philadelphia Eagles. And so Philadelphia is fairly far north and kind of a traditionally cool season area. But they actually have Bermuda grass. I talked about that earlier. They actually allow that Bermuda grass to go dormant. And they still play on it. And they don’t see any drop back in terms of that if I can get a Bermuda grass surface, even if it’s dormant. I’m just gonna still have great playability.


You talked earlier about painting fields, are there special paints that are used? And then are there any effects on the grass itself? We do use


special paints, we use these biological paints that are specifically for this, they’re generally not toxic. I mean, they don’t have zero toxicity, but you don’t go out there and go buy, you know, some paint from a hardware store already, because that will kill your grass. But it uses biological paints. But they do have negative effects by covering the leaf essentially shuts down photosynthesis or slows way down anyway. It also affects transpiration, evaporation. So that’s going back to the water thing. It’s actually a little bit of a problem because what we found is that, like in the middle of a big logo that’s been painted, and it’s been painted repeatedly throughout a season, it’s usually wetter because there’s less evapotranspiration in those spots. If you go and look at the end of a season at an area that’s been painted all season long, you’ll see that the grass is thinner and not as healthy.


Is it stressful to be a turf grass, at least a turf grass that is in a kind of a high stakes sports field?


Yeah, so in sports, turf and golf. Yeah, you got two things that are really stressful for him at least. Number one is that they’re mowed shorter than they want to be mowed. In golf we do it to increase ball speed. We want ball speed, right? And so on golf greens and tees tee boxes, you’re mowed shorter than you would normally be mowed. By doing that, by mowing it short, I am increasing the weed pressure. I’m also increasing the disease pressure. So for example, like my yard I’ve never applied a fungicide until last year I finally had to I had a disease command well managed turf can kind of resist things that you know, sort of like us, right where if we’re healthy, we’re less likely to be susceptible to various things that come along and might infect us in sports turf. They routinely and golf as well routinely have to be sprayed with fungicides because they are growing in such a stressful environment.


All right, our time’s up for today. Thank you so much, Dr. Hopkins for taking time to share your research with us. As always, it’s really interesting and exciting. And if you have any questions about this topic or want to hear more, feel free to contact us at metergroup.com or reach out to us on Twitter @meter_env. And you can also view the full transcript from today in the podcast description. That’s all for now. Stay safe, and we’ll catch you next time on We Measure the World.

icon-angle icon-bars icon-times