I've rarely been so excited to read an article. Last week when I saw Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from turf management of two Swedish golf courses, by Tidåker et al., I immediately dropped what I was doing and read it.
If you've talked with me about turfgrass management sometime in the past 18 months, our conversation may have touched on differences in energy use, and the difference in carbon emissions, caused by differences in grass selection and maintenance practices. In fact, this is one of the topics Dave Wilber and I discussed as part of our wide-ranging conversation during episode 14 of the Turfgrass Zealot Project. I don't know how to make these calculations yet, but finally with this article I've read something that provides the calculations, and that I can study so I can figure out how to do this myself.
Gelernter et al. wrote in 2014 about quantifying sustainability on golf courses. We suggested measuring and tracking the annual:
- quantity of fertilizers applied
- quantity and toxicity of pesticides applied
- quantity of water used
- fuel volume
- labor hours
- electricity used
One can keep track of those quantities, together with the associated costs, and from that one can check the efficiency of the operation. These quantities also serve as some of the basic data requirements for the GEO OnCourse program.
But the quantities we wrote about in the GCM article are all different: kg of N, kg of fungicide, L of water, L of diesel, kWh of electricity. By expressing all the turf maintenance activities in units of greenhouse gas emissions (expressed as CO2 equivalents) or energy use, one then has a single number for the entire course, or for an area of the course, or per square meter, that can be used to compare to other courses next door or around the world. And the use extends well beyond comparisons to other golf courses; one can use these units to compare the maintenance of a golf course to anything that has greenhouse gas emissions or energy use.
I had high expectations for the article, and I wasn't disappointed. The authors described the fertilizer rates, topdressing rates, water use, mowing frequencies, and much more, for the two courses, and then expressed those units in GHG or energy use. N rates were up to 22 g/m2, as were K rates (I think the rates for golf course turf in Sweden should usually be less than reported in the article -- using precision fertilization, or temperature-based growth potential and MLSN, will lead to lower recommended amounts of fertilizer). Sand topdressing on greens was about 10 mm/year. Irrigation of greens was about 300 mm/year. Mowing of fairways was about 85 times/year, and greens were mown about 180 times/year.
I think this is fascinating because one can consider Sweden to have relatively low inputs. If you're familiar with golf course maintenance in a tropical environment, let's say in Phuket, you might expect fairways to be mown more than 150 times a year, greens more than 300 times, about double the fertilizer, and more than twice the water use. Now imagine what happens when comparing irrigated vs non-irrigated rough? Seashore paspalum wall-to-wall vs. manilagrass? A 60 ha sandcapped golf courses vs. one with drainage and 2 cm of sand topdressing? Overseeded vs. not? The differences in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions will be huge.
What did Tidåker et al. find in their analysis? The entire paper is worth a careful study, but in summary they found mowing was the most energy-consuming activity, and mowing together with the production and application of fertilizers (especially N) contributed the most to greenhouse gas emissions. They suggest:
Appropriate measures for reducing energy use and carbon footprint from lawn management are thus: i) reduced mowing frequency when applicable, ii) investment in electrified machinery, iii) lowering the mineral N fertiliser rate (especially on fairways) and iv) reducing the amount and transport of sand for dressing. Lowering the mineral fertiliser rate is of particular importance, since GHG emissions originate from both the manufacturing phase and from N turnover after application.
Jason Haines has some interesting reads about how turf condition can be improved while at the same time reducing inputs:
- Visualizing how the MLSN guidelines changed the way I fertilize my golf course
- Visualizing how the growth potential model changed the way I fertilize my golf course
- How rolling can help fight climate change