An article entitled “Going Natural” appeared in the September issue of Golf Course Management magazine. The author of the article interviewed several golf course superintendents who have been using natural organic fertilizers in their programs for several years and reported their comments. Of particular interest was one respondent who reported he was having less success as time passed. He said that after five years on the organic program, the control levels were down, the drainage on the greens was not as good as it had been, and he was having thatch issues. He felt that the pathogens adapt to the biological products and he was losing some of the control.

The reason I find this particular situation to be of interest is because this superintendent was a Nature Safe user in the past, and he was having very good results. However, somewhere around two and a half to three years ago he abandoned Nature Safe for other products. The products that he switched to contained substantially less amino acids and their digestibility by the soil microbes was questionable. At best these products contained about one-third less the amino acid levels of Nature Safe products.

It is highly unlikely that the pathogens were able to adapt to the biological products. Pathogens are held in check by beneficial soil microbes, and these microbes can mutate and adapt to the pathogens as fast as the pathogens can change. Pathogens can adapt to chemical controls because the chemicals cannot alter how they work, but the beneficial organisms can and do alter their mode of action to meet new challenges.

When the biological products that were previously applied are abandoned and new products that contain less than 33% as much protein and amino acid levels are substituted, the end result is a reduction in the population of beneficial soil microbes. When they have less food available, their populations dwindle. With lower populations of beneficial microbes, the pathogenic organisms can easily build their numbers to the point that they begin to cause damage and require chemical control. Even large populations of beneficial microbes will not totally replace the use of some control chemicals but if the soil microbe levels are maintained at a high level there should be no lessening of pathogenic suppression over time.

Similarly, thatch buildup should not be a problem with high soil microbe populations. A product that contains a high percentage of amino acid will also feed the organisms that decompose thatch. Once again, products that provide lower percentages of nutrition/amino acids will not be able to feed the thatch decomposing organisms, and thatch will have a chance to start building up over time.

The type of organic products that are applied to the green surface can cause the drainage issue on sand based greens. The infiltration rate of a sand green naturally declines over time because of the fine dust that settles out of the air over the years. However, many organic products contain certain amounts of organic material that the soil microbes have difficulty digesting. These hard to digest items include lignin, cellulose, ash and denatured proteins. Denatured proteins are proteins that have been heated to such a high temperature when they are prepared that their digestibility is compromised. The ash frequently comes from manure products that were composted along with wood chips that had been used as bedding for the animals. Many sewage sludge products contain large percentages of extremely fine sand that remains after everything else decomposes. Anything that can’t be digested ends up in the soil profile where eventually it will cause a reduction in the infiltration rate. The proteins that are in Nature Safe are extremely digestible because we produce them in our own plants. That allows us to manufacture highly digestible proteins. Other manufacturers of organic fertilizers purchase their proteins on the open market and they have no idea of their digestibility. When Nature Safe is applied to a turf area, everything physically disappears within a few weeks, leaving nothing behind that could cause a reduction in infiltration rate.

The bottom line is that anyone who is considering going on an organic program should give some careful consideration to the long-term effects of their actions. They should make certain that they are using a product that has a high food value for the beneficial microbes that suppress pathogens and decompose thatch. They should also be aware of the digestibility and the ash content of the product they select for use in their program. Once the pore spaces on expensive new sand greens are plugged up, it is pretty difficult to open them up again. Quite often the product that was the least expensive initially can prove to be the most costly in the long haul.

With Nature Safe, as a byproduct of our unparalleled protein values and their respective digestibility, the longer the product is used, the better it performs.