TheTurfZone: Welcome to TheTurfZone. This episode continues our series on the USDA-funded ResistPoa Project. In this episode, we’re talking to John Kaminski, Ph.D., Professor at Penn State. Welcome John, thanks for joining me.
John Kaminski: Thanks for having me.
TTZ: So let’s jump right in to the ResistPoa Project. We know that controlling annual bluegrass can be a challenge for turfgrass managers, and this project is combining efforts of many researchers and participants. So for your part of the project, I understand that there are many objectives. Let’s start off with talking about what objectives you are working on specifically.
JK: Well, we’re involved in, I don’t know how many, it’s a lot, but several aspects of the project. We’re the lead on two of them. The two that we’re the lead on are first seedling emergence patterns, so there’s several of us around the country that are basically monitoring seedling emergence throughout the entire year. So we’re trying to be able to model seedling emergence based on temperature, soil moisture throughout the various zones in the United States in hopes that we can time some of our pre-emergence or post-emergence herbicides can be applied at those specific timings.
So that’s one that we’re taking the lead on. The other one that we’re taking the lead on, and I don’t know how I got put on this to be honest with you, but there’s an education component. So there’s an outreach and extension component, which is sharing the information with those in the industry and then there’s an education component that I’m taking the lead on that’s going to be more about teaching future scientists and students, developing and pulling together the materials that can be used in classrooms and those types of things. So those are the two that I’m taking the lead on. I have a graduate student Kaiyuan Tang, who is really kind of spearheading the research end of the project. Also there’s a resistance section where we’re monitoring, collecting samples from across Pennsylvania, at least for us, and different zones in the United States and we are screening them for resistance to various herbicides. Apparently this has been a huge problem in the south and with the southern golf courses and home lawns in those areas. But in the north, we’ve been screening for a year, we slowed down a little because of COVID, we can’t really travel that much, but we haven’t found any resistance so far to the commonly used herbicides up here. So I think that we’re gonna definitely see it be a geographic thing. Herbicides are more of an issue down in the south and diseases and fungicide seem to be a bigger issue for us, so we’ll have to just keep plugging away and see what else we find.
We’re also on a, we’re trying to look for alternative controls for poa, so instead of thinking about the traditional herbicides, we’re looking at some of these non-traditional, or non-chemical controls. Pelargonic acid and some of these other products that would be considered more safe to burn down the poa annua. I don’t know how successful that’s going to be. We put trials out last week and it seemed to burn all the turf, including the desired turf, so I think a lot of it is going to depend on timing and there’s a lot of work to still be done.
TTZ: So you’ve definitely got a full slate with your portions of this project–
JK: We’ve definitely got enough to keep us busy.
TTZ: How does this work with – does this complement some other work you’re doing outside of the project, specifically focused on annual bluegrass?
JK: It does, actually. My lab has been working on poa going back to the late 90s when I was a grad student and it’s always been a fascinating plant to me and we’ve done things like looking at the biology of the plant, but we’ve also done various management programs and practices looking at PGRs, so for many years we’ve been looking at the impacts of PGRs that could help suppress it. I’ve been working on a project outside of this one that looks at a combination of iron, nitrogen rates and PGRs and we’ve had pretty good success after repeated years of making these applications being able to suppress poa annua, so that’s something we’ve continued to work on. Even 9-10 years ago when PoaCure was first coming to the market, and it’s just got labeled this year, Kaiyuan was one of my masters students. He did a lot of the early research looking at herbicidal control, post-emergence control with PoaCure. And that’s been successful. I think the caution is, and it leads right back into this project, the caution is if it’s going to be over-used, are we then going to get into a situation where we develop resistance, and then we’ve lost a pretty good herbicide. It’s a continuing cycle. It goes from looking at biology, then you get into management, then maybe herbicidal control, then you realize maybe you’re missing something about the biology, and you’ve gotta go back and take a look. So I don’t think that from 1998, when I first started working on poa to 15-20 years from now when I retire, I don’t think that I’ll have a shortage of poa work to do.
TTZ: Your relationship with poa would, on that Facebook checkbox, would say “it’s complicated?”
JK: Yes. Every time somebody says, “How do I get rid of poa?” I’m like, “It depends.” It depends on what’s your species that your managing, it depends on whether you’re a golf course or an athletic field, it depends on your budget…. there’s so many things that go into it in terms of managing and controlling that it’s very difficult. There’s no silver bullet, even with PoaCure on the market now, there’s no real silver bullet that’s going to completely eliminate it.
TTZ: There in Pennsylvania, how does annual bluegrass rank in the list of weeds? I know that can be a multifaceted answer as far as prevalence and difficulty to control, but overall what’s the ranking there?
JK: I would say that for golf courses and athletic fields, it’s number one. If you get into the home lawns, it’s more common weeds like crabgrass and dandelion and and clover become more important. But because of its difficulty to control, its persistence throughout the year, especially in Pennsylvania, and sometimes its ability to produce a poor surface, especially in athletic fields, I would say its number one.
Unlike the south and the southern people that are working on this project, they see it more as an annual plant, and so it comes and then it dies out in the summer and then it comes back. In Pennsylvania, it doesn’t behave like that. It’s more perennial in nature. It will stay around with us all year long. In some cases that’s good, we have golf courses that have 100% pure poa annua putting greens that are great. Oakmont is a good example of that. But other people want bentgrass and they have to keep the poa out, so it’s a real challenge for our superintendents and grounds managers.
TTZ: I know that you guys are about halfway through the actual USDA project of ResistPoa?
JK: I think it’s a four-year project and we’re just past year one, so we’re into our second year of the project. I came on late to this. They were putting this together well in advance of when I joined the project and when they looked at it they realized that they could use some more cool season locations, so I think that’s how I came into it, but I think it started around August of last year, maybe May of last year and then it’s continued, I think we have three more years left. I think we’re halfway through the second year.
TTZ: In that timeframe, and of course with the understanding that research will be perpetual, as far as this project goes with the specific objectives you’re working on, have there been any trends or results that you can see the path where the industry is going to benefit from this in the future, even if we’re still a little ways out from having the research in hand and actual useful practices that we can use out on the golf course and on lawns and sports turf?
JK: I think so. The information that we’re getting on the biology of the organism, of the plant, has been great. I think that we’ll finish up the seedling emergence portion of the project in the spring, so we already have a year’s data and we’ll have the second-year data. We’re seeing some interesting trends between germination in fairway turf versus putting green turf. They don’t follow the same pattern. So some of those things are gonna flip things upside down in terms of what people traditionally think about the timing of germination. And it sounds silly because it’s something that people have worked on for many years, but it really does cater towards the timelines of when people will do certain practices. For instance, we’ve always said in the northeast and mid-Atlantic that poa’s going to germinate starting probably in late-August an really flush into September/October. So people will time their aerifications earlier so that they can get everything to heal up before the germination of the poa’s going to happen. That’s obviously a good thing, but now we’re looking at this on putting greens and we’re seeing different patterns where it’s still seems to germinate quite a bit in the spring.
So I think that’s going to directly help some superintendents and turf managers in their timing of some of their practices. And then the herbicide resistance, I think that’s really expanding quite a bit. Like I said, we’re not seeing herbicide resistance in the northeast, or at least in Pennsylvania, but they’re definitely finding it down in the southern parts of the United States, so it’s going to broaden the scope of active ingredients that have been found to have resistance, and maybe help managers make better decisions on which products they’re going to use. So that’s good.
And the other part that I’m a part of, but not directly, we have a socioeconomic side of this so they’ve been doing focus group interviews and gathering baseline data, which I’m coming to learn is very, very important to show the effects and the impact of our project. They’ve met with lawn care operators and golf course superintendents and athletic field managers and discussed things with them and now they’re putting together a fairly large survey to gather even more information. So that’s going to really show us trends of what people are actually doing out in the field. Then four years from now when we start releasing some of this data and getting it more out to the public, we may be able to see that influence the decisions that are made by the turf managers, and that’s a good thing.
TTZ: In closing, what is the overall goal of the project and what do you hope the industry gains from the ResistPoa Project?
JK: There’s probably a lot of things we have as goals, but I think the overall goals for us, it’s obviously called ResistPoa, so the overall goal is for us to determine and look at herbicide resistance and document how widespread that is, because it’s becoming more of a problem. That’s being done fairly rapidly, but the ancillary goals, and the things that are really going to help the practitioners, are going to be a lot of the work that’s being done looking at alternative methods of control, better use of herbicides. I’m not involved in some of these aspects, but they’re doing a lot of work looking at fraise mowing in the south to see if they can reduce poa populations and still maintain turf. Then the non-chemical alternative controls that we’re looking at. I think ultimately we’re going to try and produce science-based information that makes managing poa easier for turf managers. I think if I had to sum it up, that’s how I would sum it up. This has been a long battle that people have dealt with and I don’t think we’re going to solve all those battles, but I think by consolidating all the people from various geographic regions that really have different management styles and practices based on where they’re located, I think we’re going to be able to come up with concentrated information for people managing turf in specific regions. I think that hasn’t been done before. A lot of the stuff that’s been done are one-offs. In other words, we did a seedling emergence study in Maryland in the early 2000s, but now we’re finding that that doesn’t necessarily hold up for golf courses in the south. Or on putting greens. So I think that broadening the scope and involving more people is going to really help provide more information.
There’s already things that are available for turf managers on the website, Resistpoa.org that can be useful. They’ve put together a really good site of action chart for the herbicides to show what all the herbicides that are available that have been used on annual bluegrass and what modes of action, of sites of action, so people can go online and download that as a poster and pin it up in your shop. There are some webinars and some other information that’s on there, and I think ultimately, we’re only at the beginning of the second year, as they consolidate this information, which we’re pulling together the first major report right now, as we start consolidating that information, it’s going to immediately go up on the website and provide more information for people to understand and better learn to manage their poa, depending on where they’re located.
What’s amazing to me, I’ve always been in the mid-Atlantic and northeast, and we manage poa a certain way and we usually manage it to keep it. You know, it’s a desirable plant in a lot of cases, but starting to hear the stories from other researchers from other parts of the country, it’s just such a different beast than what we deal with, and I think that that’s where the regionality of these specific goals and objectives of the project come in and make this a very strong project. Turfgrass is not normally seen as a USDA or a funded type of project. There’s very few grants that people get and for Muthu to be able to pull all this together with all the people in, I think, 14 different universities and gain access to 5.6 million dollars to help understand poa annua better, that’s an incredible feat in and of itself, and I think that the research data that’s going to come out of this is really going to help the end user. And having this all concentrated in a central website is going to be very useful as well.
TTZ: Absolutely. John, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today.
JK: It was my pleasure, I appreciate you having me on.
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