Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Recent advances in biological control strategies to manage turfgrass diseases have been reported, such as the application of composts and the use of antagonistic microorganisms. When determining whether microbial products are right for your turf, use common sense, sound judgment and ask lots of questions. Ask these five questions when considering the use of biological control products on turfgrass.
1. Is the product making pesticidal claims?
If yes, is the product EPA registered? This is required by law if they’re making pesticidal claims. The U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs offers a list of all products registered or for which Experimental User Permits (EUPs) have been issued. You can access the list at EPA.gov. If there are no pesticidal claims, the product is not considered a pesticide and does not require EPA registration. When in doubt, contact your state department of agriculture or EPA representative.
2. How does the product work and what does it actually do?
For biological control products, this might include asking whether suppression is general (control by many organisms) or specific (caused by one or a few organisms) or inquiring about the specific mechanism or mode of action, i.e., competition, antibiotic production, hyperparasitism or induced resistance.
3. Was the product tested?
Who tested it (ask for names and telephone numbers)? Were the results published in a reputable scientific journal? Were the experiments confirmed by multiple researchers? Preferably tested at a university by nonbiased researchers. Contact a turfgrass pathologist and get their thoughts on the product as well. Use your state extension specialists!
4. Are others in the area using the product?
If the answer is yes, ask for references and give them a call to get their opinion on the product. Use your local network!
5. Will they supply you with enough product for testing under your conditions to substantiate their claims?
If the product is really new and you don’t believe it has been tested enough in the field (based on answers to the above questions), then ask for a sample to evaluate on your turfgrass. Use common sense and take a somewhat conservative approach when applying the product. For example, avoid making large-scale applications to your high-value areas. Test the product using small-scale applications, making certain to include both untreated and standard-treated plots to enable you to fairly assess the efficacy of the new product or approach.
Pam Sherratt is a sports turf specialist at Ohio State University and served on the STMA board of directors from 2010-2011.
Joe Rimelspach is a program specialist at Ohio State University.