What path led you to your career with NTEP? I have a degree in agricultural economics from the University of Maryland. While in college, I worked as a student research assistant at the USDA’s Beltsville (Maryland) Agricultural Research Center. After graduation, I found temporary employment at the research center, working in entomology research and then in turf research for USDA turf scientist Jack Murray. In November of 1982, I was hired by Murray to be NTEP’s first employee. My degree has come in handy, as NTEP is a non-profit organization and requires business-type skills to administer.
What are your job responsibilities with NTEP? I coordinate the evaluation of turfgrasses for use on lawns, sports fields, golf courses and other areas.
How many cultivars does NTEP evaluate at one time? We normally have around 600 cultivars and experimental entries in trials at any one time. These entries encompass 16 species used for turf in the U.S. and are evaluated in 10 to 12 separate trials (each trial is planted at anywhere from 10 to 25 locations).
What are the basic NTEP testing procedures? NTEP selects an advisory committee for each trial and coordinates the development of testing protocols. NTEP then solicits entries from seed companies and breeders. We weigh, package and ship identical sets of seed to each selected university cooperator. Each cooperator follows our guidelines for establishment, management and data collection. Data is then sent to us each winter and we review, analyze and publish data collected in the previous year by spring or summer. We repeat that procedure each year until the end of a five-year period, when we summarize all data for that trial and publish a final report.
Where is NTEP testing done? Most NTEP trials are established and evaluated at state land-grant universities. We also have, from time to time, trials on golf courses and other actual use sites. Currently, we have trials in 35 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
What type of turfgrass information is collected and summarized by NTEP on an annual basis? Turfgrass quality, which is a monthly rating on a scale of 1-9 (where 9 is ideal turf) is our most popular and useful rating. But we rate many other traits as well. For example, we regularly rate characteristics such as genetic color, leaf texture and density, which describe the appearance of each entry. Also, we rate how each entry responds to environmental stresses such as drought, cold, disease and insects. And when traffic or other stresses are simulated via specialized equipment, ratings such as percent cover and recovery are important. There are more than 50 different characteristics that can be evaluated on an NTEP trial — turf managers can learn more about our ratings by visiting http://NTEP.org.
What do NTEP evaluations and statistics mean for turf managers? NTEP evaluations help turf managers select turfgrass cultivars that are appropriate in their region and/or their situation. For instance, if a field is having a problem with a disease — say summer patch — we would most likely have data identifying tolerant cultivars. Also, NTEP data aids turf managers in reviewing various entries and helps them select cultivars based on things like color, texture and density. Therefore, if a turf manager wants to create his or her own blend of cultivars based on similar color, spring green-up or other characteristics, NTEP data can be very useful. Our LSD Value statistic, at the bottom of each table, is a valuable tool in determining if two or more entries had similar performance or statistically-different performance. Using the LSD Value is essential in reviewing and utilizing NTEP data.
How do turf managers get involved with NTEP testing? First, they can talk with their local university scientist that conducts NTEP trials (if they have one that does). Since NTEP evaluates grasses in so many states, most turf field days at universities display at least one NTEP trial. This is a good way to learn about the nuances of various cultivars, as their performance can vary considerably over a season. Secondly, turf managers can select a group of cultivars that have performed well in NTEP trials and plant blocks of these at one or more sites. Since NTEP trials are large and contain many cultivars and experimentals (in some cases over 100 entries), small plots (less than 50 square feet) are planted of each grass. The size of the plot somewhat limits the evaluations that can be conducted, therefore, it’s best to plant grasses of interest on larger blocks ( for instance 250 to 500 square feet) at your location. Mowing and maintaining new grasses with your program and equipment allows you to further investigate their performance under your conditions.
What trait — or traits — is currently of considerable interest to sports turf managers? Traffic tolerance is always an important consideration for sports turf managers. Also, they need their turf to look good, so color, texture and overall quality are important. Some locations are prone to a specific problem, for example necrotic ring spot on bluegrass or winter injury on bermudagrass; therefore sports turf managers are trying to address local problems as well. And as with any consumer product, turf managers are always looking for that new grass that grows in faster, uses less fertilizer, requires fewer pesticides, etc.
What can turf managers expect to see updates on from NTEP in 2017? This year, NTEP is compiling, summarizing and posting data from nine of its trials. We have a low-input, cool-season trial that will have its first data compiled and released this spring. This trial contains not only cool-season grasses, but blends and mixtures of grasses and clover. In addition, the trial contains a non-grass entry (common yarrow). This information may be useful for parks and recreation turf managers that maintain low-maintenance areas. NTEP also will be releasing additional traffic tolerance data on tall and fine-leaf fescue, bermudagrass and zoysiagrass.