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  • Writer's pictureMark Hunt

June 24th, 2024

So, finally we are experiencing our 1st heat of summer but you know forecasting how long it will last for and its respective intensity is currently in la la land from a meteorological perspective. I don't think I can remember a time when I have looked at the GFS output for 5 days+ to see it change with every 6hour update. From sustained high pressure peaks to low pressure troughs, it is currently wavering from one to the other with no definitive forecast. My previous advice to take wellies, raincoats and suncream to Glastonbury may well prove accurate !

One of my good friends WhatsApp'ed some lovely images to me recently. He is a golf course superintendent and a passionate conservationist when it comes to all things nature, but particularly raptor species. Having installed Owl and Kestrel boxes on his site many years ago, he currently has 4 Barn Owl chicks, 2 Tawny Owl and 8 Kestrel in residence. They are all being ringed as part of this conservation work (hence the image). What great work to engage in, whilst also running a busy 18-hole golf course on very limited resources.

How many golfers and members of the public realise what a great environment a golf course presents or can present for nature vs. the monocultural sterility of modern agriculture ?

I could talk about the abundant Butterfly and Moth species on the same site. Work still to do here but with the collaboration of the RSPB with the R&A and other organisations, we are undoubtedly heading in the right direction. Heading across rural Leicestershire at 3:00am the other morning for an early doors Barbel session on The River Trent, I didn't see one Barn Owl, when in the past I would see many. Happily though, once sat in my swim to fish, one did fly above me as if to say 'Hi'. Point being this particular bird of prey needs every bit of help it can get.

Another sign of the same coin....

At a recent agricultural show meeting farmers, working with my colleague, Peter Palmer, we had a visitor to the Prodata stand enquiring about sensors to monitor nitrate and phosphate levels in water. He explained that he was involved in water pollution research in agriculture. I mentioned to him that I worked in the golf course sector and he replied "Well you'd need those sensors for that market with the amount of fertiliser golf courses apply, we (as in agriculture) would never be allowed to apply that level". Luckily I was able to correct his entirely mis-placed viewpoint by calling up some leachate work I did in the early 2000's at UCD, Dublin and explained to him that maintaining grass cover 365 days a year as we do on pitches and golf courses means we have a very efficient filtration system in place with minimal leaching to the environment. I am not sure if the point I made registered but it disappointed me to think that an academic in this area held such a mis-placed viewpoint on our industry.

My point from those two experiences is that we still have a lot of work to do to convince the general public and academia that the work we do on golf courses in particular can be very positive for the environment, with few negatives, especially considering how significantly our nutrient input has decreased since I have been in the profession (longer than I can remember)

Onto the weather and an appointment with uncertainty....

General Weather Situation - w/c 24th June, 2024

So currently we have a warm air plume emanating from southern Europe and providing some very warm temperatures and summer conditions. During this week we will see this break down as an Atlantic low pressure system pushes in from the west. This will introduce humidity into the forecast as moisture from this system feeds into the high pressure peak.

Humidity and heat = thunderstorms. Predicting where and when thunderstorms will occur is like looking for an honest man in parliament, a pointless process judging my the news currently I'd say.

The breakdown will push in from the west as a weak Atlantic front pushes into Ireland during Tuesday, so here you'll notice a drop in temperatures from the mid-twenties to the high teens / low twenties with some showers pushing into the north west, along with a brisk westerly wind later on Wednesday.

For Scotland it looks like the breakdown will also take place later on Wednesday as these rain fronts push in from the north west to central areas, dropping the temperature into the high teens. There will be some heavy showers / thunderstorms across the north west of Scotland on Tuesday before this. From later on Wednesday, a wet, windy and unsettled outlook takes over for the rest of the week.

For England and Wales, the high temperatures will stay in place till Thursday though we will see some sporadic rain showers push down the north east coast on Tuesday. Currently it looks like the breakdown will take place across The South West / Wales during Thursday with thunderstorms spreading east later in the day.

Friday looks like a quiet day for all save for some rain across the north west of Scotland during the morning which may be heavy. Away from this we should be reasonably dry, cooler with temperatures dropping down to the high teens / low twenties and accompanied by a brisk westerly wind. Later in the day we will see rain push into the west of Ireland.

it goes without saying that the timings and areas affected may indeed change, it is a highly volatile situation when humidity feeds into a warm / hot high pressure system, so your best bet is to keep a good eye on your rain radar apps, as these storms will 'grow' from a warm updraft of air to eventually seed a thunderstorm, try forecasting that.....We are very likely to see this 'seeding' of storms take place over motorway systems (hot concrete and hot motors/batteries) and urban centres as concrete conducts heat and vectors it upwards.

The outlook for the weekend looks OK currently as a ridge of high pressure reasserts itself, some showers around during Saturday morning, pushing across Wales, The South West and into the southern half of the U.K. The same for Scotland, showers across the west early doors moving easterly. Northern England my prove drier as it sits between the two rain fronts but we will see.

Weather Outlook - w/c 1st July, 2024

Such is the volatility and lack of consistency in the current long-term forecast, I don't intend to waste much time on it because I know what I write here will change by the time we get to next Monday. Currently it looks like high pressure will prevail from the weekend into the early part of next week before a cool, north westerly Atlantic low pressure will take over for the 2nd part of the week to bring much cooler conditions and strong north westerly winds. Now considering I am supposed to be heading away in a campervan next week, I dearly hope this forecast is wrong and will change but as I mentioned right at the start of this blog, I cannot remember a time when so much uncertainty existed beyond the 5-day outlook.

Agronomic Notes

Yesterday we nudged up into the mid-twenties and we look to go higher until the weather breaks later in the week. Ireland / Wales will be similar and Scotland, a little lower, but I think this week will definitely constitute our 2nd Anthracnose trigger of the spring / summer. Definite in my mind because of the fact that the high temperatures will be accompanied by increasing humidity and a thundery breakdown. This will lead to a a period of plant leaf wetness which will enable the fungal mycelium emerging from the germinating Anthracnose spore to grow across and into the plant leaf.

So what's to do ?

Well at the very least I'd be adopting the well-researched and effective guidelines from Rutgers University (find them here and a good GCM article on them here). Now this work is getting on a bit as it was 2015 (ish), but I think the principles hold true now with nitrogen input the most significant factor in the occurrence of this disease. Run your greens lean on N and expect this disease to make an appearance. There is a more recent Penn State article here which has some great supplementary information.

Using this disease to work as an effective biocontrol measure to remove Poa annua from your sward is the work of a brave man or women (who must have the club on their side before doing so !) because once it's established in your sward as a disease, it is there till you break the life cycle of spore production. And whilst its main host species is Poa annua currently, in the USA, it happily takes out Bentgrass as well. For this reason alone I think I would be checking on the Anthracnose status (susceptibility) of the cultivars I am overseeding with, especially if they originate from Stateside and will have supporting data.

That's the rub really and the focal point of managing this disease.

If it has presented as a big problem for your surfaces in the recent past, then you can assume you have significant, latent spore levels present which will cause a reoccurrence of the disease at a future point when climatic conditions conspire to initiate spore germination (currently held to be 3 consecutive days ›=25°C), followed by humidity / plant leaf wetness. If this is the case then I would suggest applying an effective fungicidal treatment preventatively within 10-14 days of this trigger event.

Fortunately, we have some good, new, effective fungicides at our disposal.

In my mind this is a big positive for not only have we lost in the recent past, some effective controls (Propiconazole for example), but the surviving older chemistries exhibit less and less efficacy (because I theorise of growing fungicidal resistance, particularly to single-site actives). If you look at the Pennstate article, in the USA they have 2 multi-site fungicidal controls, Chlorothalonil and Fluazinam, which are particularly effective at controlling this and other diseases by preventing the emergence of resistance. Unfortunately we lost Chlorothalonil a good few years ago and Fluazinam isn't a turf-labelled product. This makes it harder to break the cycle of Anthracnose if it occurs on your site.

Once a control has been applied, adopting the Rutgers BMP's should take you to a better place in terms of disease control. Remembering that failure to control this disease will leave you with a sub-optimum surface for a good number of weeks right at the time of peak golf (August into September). Remember also that trying to curatively control this disease is not an effective strategy because once you see it, it is far too late to achieve any form of control other than ring-fencing. It is also one of those diseases that comes and goes in terms of severity, you think it's on the way out, we pick up some cool, humid weather and it is back again with more plant loss and sleepless nights.

If it isn't a commonly-occurring disease at your site, then I think you are able to keep it at bay by efficient plant moisture (and therefore stress management) and those sensible BMP's with respect to nutrition, cutting height and rolling. The latter a great strategy to suppress stress during hot conditions by alternating cutting with rolling during hot conditions. This is particularly effective at preventing Anthracnose ingression into the clean up strip (because you skip this) as this area has the most cutting stress. Coincidentally (or not as the case may be) the clean up strip tends to contain the highest population of Poa annua var. annua (because we get more voids in this area and its voids that this biotype exploits) and this biotype is most affected by Anthracnose in my experience.

Ignore it at your peril as a disease, manage it well with effective BMP's and it should not be an issue. Enjoy the sunshine while we have it and remember to protect your skin 😎

All the best.

Mark Hunt

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