NCERA221: Turfgrass and the Environment

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NCERA221: Turfgrass and the Environment

Duration: 10/01/2021 to 09/30/2026

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

In the United States, managed turf occupies more than 40 million acres of land (Milesi et al., 2005). For perspective, turfgrass occupies three times more acreage than does irrigated corn. Homeowners and professional turf managers spent $45 billion on turf in 1993, which was a substantial increase compared to the $4 billion spent in 1974 (Duble, 2001). In the early 21st century, the economic impacts of the turf industry were estimated to be $74.5 billion, with approximately 45% of expenditures generated by the golf industry (Haydu et al., 2008). Moreover, the turfgrass seed industry is the 2nd largest seed industry in the US, and much of the nation’s sod production is incorporated as part of a crop rotation system with food crops to reduce pest issues. Industry stakeholders indicate a need to identify and address environmental and economic issues related to turfgrass selection, production, and management, including water and chemical use, greenhouse gas emissions, and sustainability. As an example, on average, the U.S. golf industry uses over 2 billion gallons of irrigation water on a daily basis (Throssell et al., 2009). The industry has responded to the need for better water utilization through research to improve irrigation technology, environmental modeling, plant breeding (Bonos and Huff, 2013), and altered management practices (Leinauer and Devitt, 2013). Environmental degradation and reduced economic benefit, including jobs and manufacturing, could occur if environmental issues are not addressed through collaborative research and outreach. The technical feasibility is great; there are several dozen engaged scientists in the region wanting to collaborate on environmental issues dealing with turfgrass. 


This multistate effort has many advantages in that it can: leverage expertise from multiple institutions to address turfgrass management challenges, help communicate environmental impacts of turfgrass systems across state boundaries, hasten the formation of multi-institutional teams that can collaborate on grant proposals to federal funding agencies, allow for regular sharing of new knowledge to benefit graduate and undergraduate students, provide opportunities for mentoring new faculty, and coordinate outreach and Extension to help reach diverse audiences throughout the north central region. This project does not overlap other multistate groups since it is focused specifically on sustainable turfgrass management systems for the north central United States.; currently, collaborations by NCERA-221 participants exist with NE1602: Explorations in the Turfgrass Phytobiome: Understanding Microbial Associations and Developing Tools for Management since understanding microbial diversity in turfgrass systems may be an important path to more sustainable turfgrass systems (Chou et al., 2020).


The project will evaluate turfgrass species/cultivars, integrated pest management practices that reduce our reliance on synthetic pesticides, new sensor technologies to provide an early and precise identification of turf disorders such as drought, and holistic systems to meet the goal of sustainable management using reduced or alternative management requirements. These studies will assess the effect of reduced water, nutrients, mowing and pesticide inputs. Anticipated impacts will include improved turfgrass performance combined with sustainable management practices that reduce labor, water, and chemical inputs. Additionally, regulatory efforts that are aimed to preserve and protect the environment may be strengthened.



  1. Provide national leadership in the area of sustainable turfgrass systems for transition zone and temperate climates, including collaborative research in turf management, plant physiology, plant pathology, entomology, cultivar selection, breeding and genetics, weed science, and ecosystem services.
  2. Develop and deliver innovative outreach and educational programming to various stakeholder groups including turfgrass management professionals, undergraduate and graduate students, public agencies, scientists, and the general public.

Procedures and Activities

Objective 1:


Sustainable approaches to turfgrass management are the focus of multiple efforts throughout the NCERA-221 (Soldat et al., 2020). Nitrogen drives growth and is important for maintaining a healthy turf, but runoff, leaching, and volatilization are concerns with overuse of nitrogen fertility.  Purdue (PU), Kansas State University (KSU), Michigan State University (MSU), and the University of Wisconsin (UW), are coordinating ongoing research to evaluate the impact of irrigation on fertilizer application timing, nitrogen source, and concentrations to determine the fate of nitrogen in the turfgrass system. Long-term research at MSU has been studying the impact of fertility runoff and leaching. All of this data is being leveraged to develop practical and usable recommendations to turfgrass managers. 


A warming climate brings new challenges for turfgrass managers, including more unpredictable winters with greater temperature fluctuations leading to winter injury. A collaboration between University of Minnesota (UMN), MSU, UW, and Iowa State University (ISU) has resulted in the deployment of environmental sensors on golf greens in northern climates to help identify conditions under which turf is most susceptible; these data can also help inform research projects such as those focused on plant physiology. At MSU, researchers are seeking to understand the mechanisms causing winter kill of turfgrasses, especially under ice cover, a stress that is expected to worsen in a warming climate. Projects at North Dakota State University focus on identifying turfgrasses that are able to withstand salt stress in arid environments.


Research is being conducted to understand and quantify the role turf systems play in environmental quality, including projects focused on quantifying the ecosystem services provided by turfgrass. At UW and U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), researchers are investigating the impact of turfgrass management on soil health and soil microbial diversity compared to agricultural and unmanaged/unmowed systems. In addition, they are working on adapting the Argo-IBIS ecosystem model to quantify the ecosystem services provided by turfgrass areas relative to other land uses. This work will help us understand how expanding turfgrass areas are altering the soils and ecosystem functions compared to other natural and anthropogenic land uses.


Numerous pests affect turfgrass systems in the north central region. At UW, researchers are using an integrated approach to improve control of important turfgrass diseases such as dollar spot and snow mold. This approach includes projects investigating the turfgrass microbiome to improve biological disease control, understanding of the basic host-pathogen relationship with dollar spot to identify novel control strategies, and modeling disease to more accurately time fungicide applications for both dollar spot and snow mold. The Missouri University (MU) Turfgrass Pathology program is engaged in research investigating lance nematode control on bentgrass putting greens, multispecies perennial turfgrass systems for the transition zone, integrated management systems for large patch on zoysiagrass and spring dead spot of bermudagrass, and detection of Pythium spp. in turfgrass irrigation systems. Also at MU, collaborative research is aimed at developing an integrated approach to control an emerging turf pest, billbug. Without proper identification and treatment, this pest can be destructive to zoysiagrass turf.  Researchers at several universities, including PU, Ohio State University (OSU), and the University of Illinois (UI), continually evaluate herbicides against common turfgrass weeds. Certain weed species are more difficult to control culturally (fertilizing, cultivating, mowing, etc.) and with herbicides. Information on strategies to control these difficult weeds is lacking with the herbicides currently used by industry professionals. A common theme from clientele at Extension events is that applicators are seeking new and improved control strategies for these tough weeds. Further, new herbicides and herbicide mechanisms of action are slow to development, so the importance of developing new weed control strategies is critical. New invasive weed species are being introduced in the Midwest and stakeholders are unprepared to manage these weeds. Researchers are working to develop strategies for optimizing weed control, including new research on organic weed control alternatives (Patton et al., 2019). 


At University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), ISU, and UMN, turfgrass breeders are using novel approaches to improve both warm- and cool-season turfgrass for low-input landscapes. Specific traits of interest include shade tolerance (Petrella and Watkins, 2020), winter hardiness, drought tolerance, resistance to common turfgrass diseases (Amaradasa and Amundsen, 2016), increased seed production, and reduced vertical growth rate. At KSU and PU, researchers are developing cold-hardy, warm-season turfgrass as alternative options to cool-season species for transition zone climates. In addition to local breeding program cultivar evaluations, all academic cooperators in the region participate in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) variety evaluation trials.  NTEP coordinates species and mixture trials evaluated throughout the region so breeders can evaluate advanced lines and turfgrass managers can see new and upcoming cultivars.  Ancillary trials are often conducted at the conclusion of the evaluation trials to explore variety performance in response to environmental and management inputs, which is an added layer of information important for turfgrass managers interested in growing the most suitable cultivar by region. Researchers in Minnesota are working with NTEP on making cultivar performance data more accessible to stakeholders; part of this work included identifying how stakeholders currently use NTEP data (Yue et al., 2019).


Objective 2:


Collaborative outreach has been a defining characteristic of turfgrass research in NCERA-221. Extension faculty throughout the region are leading efforts to educate stakeholders on ways to maintain functional, aesthetically pleasing turfgrasses with reduced inputs. These efforts are happening in several different contexts.


Sod is an important specialty crop used to prevent soil erosion and to create greenspace. New regulations aimed at reducing soil erosion and changing building and residential codes are increasing sod demand, especially of low-input species, which are currently in very short supply. Recent advances in low-input, cool-season grass breeding and projected demand for these grasses (Yue et al., 2016) provide an opportunity to increase sustainable landscape management in northern states. Unfortunately, no information exists on the production, economics, or marketing of low-input, sustainable sod species as a specialty crop. A low-input sod project involving PU and UMN supports the diversification of farms through the expansion and adoption of low-input, sustainable sod species by growers and buyers through research and the development of comprehensive education resources for sod farm businesses (Patton et al., 2020).


Researchers throughout the region seek to engage and educate professional turfgrass managers. At UW, researchers have developed a repository of all turfgrass research conducted at the University that golf course superintendents can freely access; in addition, a pesticide recommendation website has been created called Turf Pest Management Mobile ( that provides research-based pesticide recommendations to professional turfgrass managers. At ISU, Extension programming is focused on training field managers how to properly use athletic field safety testing devices and athletic field surface hardness testing is now being completed at several rural Iowa schools as a result of learning how to use these tools. The University of Minnesota has led collaborative efforts to understand how public land managers make decisions about low-input turfgrass use (Barnes et al., 2020).


Turfgrass is used on athletic fields (university, school, and municipal level), golf courses, grounds (business and industrial complexes, airports, schools, parks, cemeteries, and hospitals), lawns, sod farms, and roadsides. Information on integrated weed management for turfgrass professionals managing these turfgrass areas was lacking and applicators were uncertain on the best approach (cultural, chemical, biological) for controlling common weeds in turf. Beginning in 2016, a 128-page publication was developed through a collaborative effort of 16 states to address these questions. The goal of the publication was to provide science-based information to Midwest turf professionals on weed identification, ecology, management, and herbicide use. The publication is updated annually and distributed to over 2,500 clientele each year; the most recent edition was release in 20201 (Patton et al, 2021) and acknowledges the role of the NCERA multistate project. 


NCERA-221 collaborators will continue to engage public agencies, such as departments of transportation and regional water authorities, on issues related to reducing inputs on turfgrass landscapes (Friell et al., 2015; Watkins et al., 2019; Watkins et al., 2020). At UMN, researchers currently partner with the Metropolitan Council to educate the public about how to reduce water use on their lawn while maintaining a functional, aesthetically pleasing turf. Also at UMN, researchers have developed online education for roadside seed and sod installers so that lower-input turfgrasses can be installed and maintained successfully (Moncada et al., 2019).


Many of the turfgrass research programs in the north central region are training undergraduates for careers as turfgrass managers. The collaborative work of this regional group can serve as an important resource for using innovative approaches (Bigelow and Kaminski, 2016) to educate students in sustainable turfgrass management.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • New cultivars will be developed for stakeholders that have improved disease resistance, better performance under drought, and lower nitrogen fertilizer requirements.
  • Novel disease control strategies will be developed that reduce reliance on synthetic fungicides.
  • New recommendations on species adapted for sod production in the Midwest will help with crop diversification and input reduction.
  • Revised pest control recommendations will help practitioners implement integrated pest management and reduce inputs.
  • Novel best management practices will reduce inputs on maintained turfgrass landscapes.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

NCERA-221 collaborators will educate stakeholders through field days, online publications, peer-reviewed papers, articles in industry magazines, classroom experiences, talks at professional conferences, mobile applications, local and national media, and webinars. 


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

Literature Cited

Amaradasa B.S., and K. Amundsen. 2016. Transcriptome profiling of buffalograss challenged with the leaf spot pathogen Curvularia inaequalis. Frontiers in Plant Science 7. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.00715.


Barnes, M.R., K.C. Nelson, A.R. Kowalewski, A.J. Patton, and E. Watkins. 2020. Public land manager discourses on barriers and opportunities for a transition to low input turfgrass in urban areas. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening


Bigelow, C.A. and J.E. Kaminski. 2016, Social media and electronic networking use and preferences among undergraduate turf science students. Natural Sciences Education, 45: 1-8 nse2015.0001.


Bonos, S. A., and D. R. Huff. 2013. 'Cool-season grasses: biology and breeding.' in John C. Stier, Brian P. Horgan and Stacy A. Bonos (eds.), Turfgrass: biology, use, and management (ASA-CSSA-SSSA: Madison, WI).


Chou, M.Y., S. Shrestha, R.A. Rioux, and P.L. Koch. 2021. Hyperlocal variation in soil iron and the rhizosphere bacterial community determines dollar spot development in amenity turfgrass. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Early View: DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00149-21

Duble, R.L. 2001. Turfgrasses: Their management and use in the southern zone. Texas A&M University Press. College Station, Texas.


Friell, J., E. Watkins, and B.P. Horgan. 2015. Cool-season turfgrass species mixtures for roadsides in Minnesota. Ecological Engineering 84:579-587.


Haydu, J.J., A.W. Hodges, and C.R. Hall. 2008. Estimating the economic impact of the U.S. golf course industry: challenges and solutions. HortScience. 43: 759-763. 


Leinauer, B., and Devitt, D.A. 2013. Irrigation science and technology. p. 1075– 1131 In: J.C. Stier, B.P. Horgan, and S.A. Bonos, editors, Turfgrass: Biology, use, and management. Madison, WI.


Milesi C., S.W. Running, C.D. Elvidge, J.B. Dietz, B.T. Tuttle, and R.R. Nemani RR. 2005. Mapping and modeling the biogeochemical cycling of turf grasses in the United States. Environ Manage. 36(3):426-38. doi: 10.1007/s00267-004-0316-2. PMID: 16086109.


Moncada, K., J.M. Trappe, S. Bauer, and E. Watkins. 2019. Developing online education and training for installation and management of roadside turfgrasses. ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Meeting. San Antonio, TX.


Patton, A.J., R.C. Braun, and D.V. Weisenberger. (2019), Single applications of natural postemergence weed control options do not provide effective ground ivy control. Crop, Forage & Turfgrass Management, 5: 1-7 180101.


Patton A.J., R.C. Braun, E. Watkins, N.T. Mihelich, and A. Hollman. 2020. Effect of seeding rate and nitrogen fertility on the production, quality, shelf-life, and harvest limitations of low-input sod. ASA-CSSA-SSSA International Meeting. Online.


Patton, A.J., M. Elmore, J. Kao-Kniffin, B. Branham, N. Christians, A. Thoms, S. Keeley, T. Shaddox, T. Nikolai, M. Reiter, L. Miller, X. Xiong, W. Kreuser, R. Gaussoin, D. Li, D. Gardner, P. Landschoot, D. Soldat, and P. Koch. 2021. Turfgrass weed control for professionals. Purdue University Extension Publication. TURF-100. pp. 128.


Petrella, D.P. and E. Watkins. Variation in fine fescue taxa response to simulated foliar shade. Crop Science. 2020; 60: 3377– 3394.


Soldat, D.J., J.T. Brosnan, A. Chandra, R.E. Gaussoin, A.Kowalewski, B. Leinauer, F.S. Rossi, J.C. Stier, and J.B. Unruh 2020. Estimating economic minimums of mowing, fertilizing, and irrigating turfgrass. Agric Environ Lett. 5:e20032.


Throssell C.S., G.T. Lyman, M.E. Johnson, G.A. Stacey, and C.D. Brown. 2009. Golf course environmental profile measures water use, source, cost, quality, and management and conservation strategies. Applied Turfgrass Science, 6. doi:10.1094/ATS-2009-0129-01-RS.


Watkins, E., J. Trappe, K. Moncada, M. Renz, D. Soldat, W. Kreuser, J. Murphy, and K. Frank. 2019. Regional roadside turfgrass testing program. Minnesota Department of Transportation. Report No. MnDOT 2019-38. Retrieved from


Watkins, E., J. Trappe, K. Moncada, S. Bauer, and J. Reyes. 2020. Expanding the success of salt-tolerant roadside turfgrasses through innovation and education. Minnesota Department of Transportation. Report No. MN 20120-03. Retrieved from


Yue, C., J. Wang, E. Watkins, S. Bonos, K. Nelson, J. Murphy, W. Meyer, and B. Horgan. 2016. Heterogeneous consumer preferences for turfgrass attributes in the United States and Canada. Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics. doi:10.1111/cjag.12128.


Yue, C., J. Wang, E. Watkins, Y. Xie, S. Shekhar, S.A. Bonos, A. Patton, K. Morris, and K. Moncada. 2019. User preferences for accessing publically available turfgrass cultivar performance data. HortTechnology 1:1-12.


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