In recent years, it seems as though every time we pick up a turf magazine or newsletter, we read about some weird new disease that is suddenly wreaking havoc on the fine turf in some part of the country. Typically, it’s caused by an organism that we have never heard of before that has suddenly become virulent. Everyone scrambles to find a chemical that will control this new super bug before it can wipe out too much turf. Usually, if turf managers are willing to shell out enough money, some chemical is found.
The interesting thing is, if we talk with turfgrass pathologists and ask them where this new disease came from, they will tell us that it’s not a new disease at all, but an organism that has been around for eons without causing any trouble. The question then arises as to why it is causing problems now? The answer can include many things, such as lower height of cut, heavier play, artificial soil mixes, different genetics, etc. Fertility practices are seldom singled out as a cause for these new diseases, yet many times it’s a major culprit.
Up until World War II, most fertility programs for turf and agriculture were primarily organic in nature. People knew that synthetic nitrogen sources such as ammonium nitrate and urea caused a major response in plants, but they were too expensive at the time to be of any economic importance. During the war, however, there was a great need for synthetic nitrogens to use as a basis for explosives. As a result, numerous manufacturing plants were built and new and cheaper sources of natural gas, which is required for nitrogen production, were developed. Suddenly, though, the war ended and there was no need for the explosives. Because the plants had been paid for with huge war-time profits and there was large supplies of natural gas that were now available at reasonable costs, it was now possible to produce synthetic nitrogen sources that made it economically feasible to use.
In order to promote the use of these new synthetic nitrogen sources, the manufacturing companies sponsored a lot of university research. They provided grants that paid for the education of many future professors at the time. Naturally, these professors recommended the extensive use of synthetic nitrogen because they were the most familiar with it, and it seemed like a step up from the old ways of using organic materials. In the high-tech post war era, everyone wanted to do things the new modern way, not the old, supposedly outdated way. In addition, these new synthetic nitrogen sources revolutionized American agriculture by greatly increasing crop yields.
What no one realized at the time was that the synthetic nitrogen sources contained no amino acid carbon. They did contain carbon which is why some of them are referred to as synthetic organics. Amino acid carbon is the energy source for the beneficial soil microbes. It serves as their bacon and eggs or their bread and butter. The synthetic nitrogen sources provided nitrogen in a form that can be used directly by plants and completely bypasses the soil microbes. The result was that the beneficial microbes began to starve and slowly die off. Slow release synthetic sources were introduced to try to reduce the problems that arose with fertilizer burn, but they still didn’t supply the amino acid carbon required by the soil microbes.
The beneficial microbes compete directly with the pathogenic organisms, so when their numbers become depleted, the pathogenic organisms have very little competition. When this happens, some of the less vigorous pathogenic organisms have a chance to come to the forefront and create disease problems that have never been seen before. This problem becomes compounded when it occurs in artificial soils that tend to be somewhat sterile anyway.
The use of a product like Nature Safe on a regular basis provides the energy source that the beneficial microbes require for growth and reproduction. The beneficial microbes, which are better competitors than the pathogens, keep many of the pathogenic organisms in check and do not allow them to build up their populations to the point where they can create problems. No wonder turf managers who use Nature Safe as a regular part of their programs report fewer problems with turf diseases, new or old.