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Historical document

Best management practices for sustainable and safe playing surface of Australian football league sports fields (TU02007)

Key research provider: Department of Employment, Economic Development & Innovation
Publication date: June, 2007

This is a final research report from Hort Innovation’s historical archives. Please note that as these reports may date back as far as the 1990s, the content and recommendations within them may be superseded by more recent research.

What was it all about?

In a 4-year project (trademarked Sureplay®), Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (Queensland) and AFL Queensland staff worked together, to improve community sports fields. These were the fields that junior footballers invaded on Saturday mornings, and where future AFL stars struted their stuff in League fixtures on Sunday afternoons.

Through regular scientific assessment of project fields, the Sureplay® team identified ground hardness as the primary problem. Applying project results, AFLQ began regularly auditing of affiliated fields several times per year, using a specific instrument. AFLQ closes grounds that don’t pass muster.

Throughout the project, the Sureplay® team concentrated on regular ground aeration, and effective irrigation practices. The eventual result – playing conditions on many AFLQ grounds approach elite, national fields. AFLQ team member Nick Jeffrey was now constantly being approached for assistance by other sports, and local/state government agencies.

The Sureplay® team audited irrigation across project grounds. Most fields had less than 65% of sprinklers operating properly. Re-adjusting sprinklers, and fitting more appropriate nozzles, significantly improved irrigation evenness. The team investigated weekly watering, and waiting longer after rain before re-starting automatic systems. These strategies reduced irrigation by more than 30 per cent, compared to non-project fields. This was a critical finding given the drought at the time. It helped convince authorities to still allow sports field irrigation, despite harsher water restrictions.

Sureplay® investigated subsurface incorporation of organic materials (e.g. composts), before laying turf in high wear areas (e.g. goal mouths). The results - softer playing surfaces in dry soils. In a regular football season, top-dressing turf with crumb rubber helped grass persist into early winter. However, neither process could stop loss of turf following consistent heavy wear. Research into managing high wear sections of community sports fields was a priority.

As well as DPI&F and AFLQ, the Sureplay® project received substantial financial support from Horticulture Australia Limited and the Brisbane Lions Football Club. Apart from enabling research and ground improvements, project funding helped publish more than 80 articles, and hold 100+ industry events, with several thousand participants. A structured curator training program, with accompanying resources was potentially going to be commercialised.

Related levy funds

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Funding statement:
This project was funded by Hort Innovation (then Horticulture Australia Limited) with the financial support of Brisbane Lions, AFL Queensland, St Margaret's Anglican Girls School, International Turfgrass Consultancy Group, Hortech Services Pty Ltd, McCracken's Water Services and Black Kubota.

Copyright © Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited 2009. The Final Research Report (in part or as whole) cannot be reproduced, published, communicated or adapted without the prior written consent of Hort Innovation (except as may be permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)).