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Fungicides - What Will We Do Without Them


In the next 5-10 years much is set to change with regard to disease suppression on our golf courses. How dramatic the changes will be depends on the legislators and the legislation they impose, but "as sure as eggs are eggs" every golf club in the land will be affected to some degree.

Those clubs whose dependence on chemicals is minimal will prosper. Those who rely on an arsenal of fungicides to control rampant disease on a regular basis had better watch out! Many of the products that such clubs have come to rely on might not be available for much longer, and whether you like it or not, the way the course is managed will have to change. As a general guide, if a club is spending more than £1,500-2,000 a year on fungicides there is something wrong and they need to put it right while they still can.

There was a time when British golf courses were managed without recourse to pesticides - before WW2 there were very few available. However, over the last 30 years the over zealous pursuit of "the perfect green golf course" has made many a club too reliant on the chamical. Prudent use is, of course, perfectly acceptable and forms part of a well developed Integrated Pest and disease Management (IPM) programme. Flagrant over use ofen through the mis-diagnosis of disease has got us into the current situation where many of these products are now under legislative threat.

The irony is that the well-managed British cours suffers minimally from disease - indded I visit many clubs wehre disease has not been encountered for 8-10 years. When diseases do strike they are few in number and rarely severe. Yet inappropriate use abounds - it was only last week that I encountered a popular contract fungicide being use for Red Thread!! What cost to the pocket and the environment!

Red Thread and Anthracnose are perfect examples of fungal diseases that occur quite regularly in the Uk but can usually be controlled without recourse to fungicides. Indeed, one can argue that in these two cases cultural control is more appropriate. Red Thread is a low fertility indicator and its presence is a sign that you have a sward composition of some worth. It rarely needs to be controlled chemically and can usually be overcome with an application of nitrogen. Anthracnose can be alleviated by aeration to overcome surface compaction. The disease is a basal rot of annual meadow grass and its presence is indicative of moisture retention at the base of the turf. Chemical control of Anthracnose is never effective.

Fusarium Patch is probably the most common disease in the UK and arguably the most aggressive. Nevertheless, it is still relatively rare on many courses where annual meadow grass is controlled by good management. Avoiding the twin evils of over watering and over feeding reduces the likelihood of Fusarium attack. So does completing the autumn aeration and top-dressing programmes early. Making applications of bulky top-dressing to wet autumn greens and smothering the turf is a recipe for disaster! Autumn and winter Fusarium outbreaks can be controlled using sulphate of iron. Summer outbreaks rarely require fungicide inputs - the grass is growing and the fickle British climate means that conditions which favoured the disease in the first place rarely persist.

Dollar Spot appears on all the fungicide labels and the manufacturers would have you believe that it is a common disease. I have seen it one in 12 years advisory work in the UK and that was on a tennis court. Do not worry about it - if you get it, a low does of nitrogen is the answer again.

The only other disease that might be encountered is Take-all. This disease is now more common that it was becuase of the perverse popularity of using bent grass monocultures on high pH sand root zones during the construction of new golf courses. None of the fungicides available on the UK market will control Take-all and their use might well make the disease worse. We are forced in this case to use cultural techniques to control the disease and they might well involve root zone acidification and using fescues for over-seeding purposes.

We are fortunate in the UK because we experience few of the aggressive fungal pathogens that attack turf elsewhere. Further more, many of the outbreaks we do get can be managed culturally at minimal cost, provided of course tht you have the information to do so.

The possible revoation of fungicides over the next few years means that those who have chosen to manage disease in an integrated manner will have a distinct advantage over those who have not. Until now there has been an element of choice about how to manage - in the future this may no longer exist.

In 2001 we sit at a crossroad. In Europe, many countries already experience severe restrictions on the use of fungicides and other chemicals on the golf course. In Denmark, for example, there are plans to outlaw all chemical use on golf courses by 2003. In Holland and Germany, fungicide and lumbricide use is restricted as I write. Paradoxically, the US market continues to use massive quantities of fungicide to sustain monoculture systems (not only on greens but fairways too!!) and this seems to fundamentally ignore biological reasoning. Such systems which have gained favour in the UK because of the short term excellence associated with them will prove to be nothing short of unsustainable if European style directives reach UK shores.

Nobody knows when this will happen but it surely will. Clubs are recommended to make the most of the time left to get back to basics and re-develop turf systems that are inherently more resistant to disease. Your golf course, your members, and the wider environment will all benefit.


A J Beggs BSc Hons, STRI Manager / R&A Agronomist

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