To keep their plants healthy, some superintendents are turning to a new form of fertility—bionutrition, the enhancement of beneficial microorganisms in the soil to facilitate nutrient availability and uptake.
Count Bernie Banas, Grounds Manager at Leatherstocking Golf Course at Otesaga Resort in Cooperstown, N.Y., among the believers. He turned to bionutritional products in 1996 with an eye on the environment. The course borders Otsego Lake, a 10-mile long waterway that supplies drinking water to Cooperstown.
“I wanted to do something that showed I was proactive environmentally, so I looked at our fertilizer program,” says Banas. “I’ve been tweaking the program for the last 15 or 16 years, and I’m constantly looking for new products.”
He started using ao reduce thatch in the fairways. While he continued with the program successfully for several years, he no longer uses these products. “The turkey manures have other waste products that could build up and cause problems down the road,” he says.
He also has used liquid bionutritional products with seaweed and kelp extracts to battle anthracnose. “They strengthened the plant and held off infection,” notes Banas. “Once I started using these products, I haven’t seen any anthracnose since.”
He says color is another advantage of bionutritional products. “The grass color coming out of winter used to be dull brown,” he reports. “Since I started using biological products, the snow melts and the grass has a deep green color.”
Pricing may deter some superintendents from trying bionutritional products, Banas says, because they generally cost twice as much as synthetic, manmade fertilizers. Results might also not be evident right away, he adds, so some superintendents might give up prematurely or be forced to abandon a bionutrition program because of budgetary constraints.
“Even though the upfront cost is more, I’m actually seeing a payback now, because we’ve been able to reduce the applications of these products,” he says. “It might take a few years to get everything in balance, but my fertilizer and chemical budget has decreased by about 10 to 15 percent in the last 15 years. And we now have stronger plants and make fewer inputs. You just don’t apply the products and come back the next day and see dramatic results. It has to go through a process.”
Banas expects to see more bionutritional products on the market in upcoming years. “As more studies and trials are done,” he says, “more people will try the products and drive the cost down.”