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Ongoing project

An environmental assessment of the Australian turf industry (TU16000)

Key research provider: Infotech Research

What’s it all about?

Established in late 2016, this project is responsible for benchmarking the turf industry’s environmental performance, and establishing a lifecycle assessment of turf through its installation. It will point to ways industry can strengthen environmental performance without compromising productivity or profitability for growers, and the information it provides will enable growers to provide carbon footprints and environmental product declarations to the market.

With the project running into 2019, there is always an opportunity for interested growers to put their hand up to participate in the confidential assessments, and extended environmental efficiencies data collection – either intensive or remotely. For more information, contact John Cumming from Infotech Research on 0418 125 688, or Hannah Devlin at hannahd@infotechresearch.org.

Since the last update, the team has focussed on a central component of the project— delivering a lifecycle assessment of the environmental impact of turf.

Five turf installation sites in Victoria and NSW—one sports field, two recreational and two golf courses—have been studied in detail to figure out what inputs they require as well as how nutrients and carbon build-up in the soil over time.

Soil analyses were performed at four points immediately after the turf installation and again after a growing season was complete. The average organic carbon build-up was estimated at 0.14 kg of carbon per square meter per year, while the installed turf is assumed to be in a steady state of carbon uptake.

The team calculated the inputs required to achieve this, including water, fertiliser and energy used for mowing so that a cost benefit model can be developed.

At another site in NSW, a detailed study is underway to find out what happens to nitrogen applied to turf, over the course of a week. The work is examining how much of the nitrogen is lost through the soil profile.

The full set of lifecycle inputs and outputs that the team is studying is documented in the Turf Lifecycle Assessment – Goal and Scope report available here. The outcomes will be used to obtain a generic Environment Product Declaration for turf, which covers 13 impacts for each stage of the turf lifecycle: growing, transport, installation and maintenance.

ACT NOW

Download the project’s Goal and Scope report which contains details of the measurements and calculations made by the team.

The research team reports that an additional 12 growing sites have been added to the project, making a total of 30 participating in the research.

Data gathered from the sites has allowed the team to calculate a performance analysis of the farms’ operations including:

  • Production efficiency
  • Irrigation efficiency
  • Fertilisation efficiencies for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
  • Energy efficiencies for diesel and electricity
  • Carbon footprint
  • Irrigation water condition
  • Land/soil condition.

The findings are available as a benchmarking report, which will serve as a starting point for comparison with any improvements in production achieved by the project. The report documents many interesting characteristics of turf farming, including:

  • Turf farming has a similar water use per hectare to vegetable growing, consumes more water per hectare than pasture irrigation, but less than vineyards, on average.

  • Energy use is greater on turf farms per tonne of plant matter produced (approximately double vegetable averages), which appears to be a result of greater diesel consumption. Electricity use is lower for turf, as vegetable producers often run energy intensive cool stores as well as using electricity for water pumping.

  • Pump efficiencies were similar for turf and vegetable irrigation where there is a fair comparison available with similar pumping and water delivery systems in the two industries.

In this reporting period, the team also compiled four case studies that highlight good industry practices:

  • Energy efficiency saves
  • Lilydale instant lawn
  • Environmental controls
  • Carbon footprint of turf

ACT NOW

As recently reported through the industry’s communications project, in the project’s first 15 months the research team have visited turf growers to record their environmental performance with soil and water analyses. Inputs and outputs in turf growing have been examined with grower assistance, and now the researchers are investigating turf installations to gain a full lifecycle assessment of environmental impacts and risks.

The research team says that while work is ongoing, the information that has been gathered so far suggests that turf itself has a positive environmental impact and sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing the greenhouse effect. This is offset by the use of energy on the farm to pump water and do the jobs required. Inputs such as fertilisers also create environmental impacts and generate greenhouse emissions. However the investigations indicate that this appears to be less than the positive job that the turf does, suggesting that turf farming may have a positive impact on the environment in terms of climate change.

There are many other factors that need to be considered, which the researchers are working through in order to develop a good understanding of the full picture of turf and the environment. This assessment will be presented to the industry as an environmental product declaration.

At the same time, the project is gathering turf farmer resource utilisation efficiencies, such as land use, water use, fertiliser use and energy efficiency of operations. This data will also be presented to the industry in the form of a benchmarking report.

ACT NOW

  • As reported in earlier Hortlinks, to kickstart the project there was a review of existing research and information on environmental performance and best practice in the Australian turf industry. The overview remains available here.

Data gathering continues, with the project team working with growers from across Australia. There have been 20 growing sites selected for intensive assessments through the project. On these sites, a range of environmental assessments are being made, with information also collected on energy, fertiliser and water efficiencies, plus other observations to feed into the benchmarking and the footprint declarations.

In the early stages of the project, the research team has reviewed existing research and information on environmental performance and best practice in the Australian turf industry.  The review condensing this information is available here and is just a starting point for the project.

The project is now entering the data-gathering phase, which will involve a range of tests at turf grower sites and some turf installation sites. The researchers are currently looking for turf growers to participate, who are interested in improving their efficiencies and managing environmental impacts/risks. Participants will receive a soil test and an individual environmental assessment/efficiencies benchmarking report, while observations will feed into the industry’s benchmarking information.

For further details, contact John Cumming from Infotech Research on 0418 125 688. There is no limit on the number of growers who can join the benchmarking study – the bigger the involvement, the better the results!

The researchers note that the industry will benefit from the outcomes of the lifecycle assessment of turf showing its functions in absorbing carbon into the soil and controlling soil erosion. It is hoped the data will be able to be used to market natural turf as a good environmental choice.