February 18th

Hi All,

As every week passes in February we can imagine we are edging ever closer to spring and some warmer temperatures. I use the term ‘imagine’ slightly tongue-in-cheek because this weekend saw temperatures up to 14.5°C here and the coming weekend will likely nudge them even higher, so we don’t have to imagine. The record for the warmest February day currently stands at 19.7°C recorded back in 1998, but I can remember back to my formative years, a certain 1976 which started in exactly the same way as 2019 and went on to be our hottest, driest summer for many a year.

Now before I doom 2019 to be our wettest year ever (thank you John) I did have a look at the weather stats for 1998 out of interest. Back then we did indeed start extremely warm and dry, but we actually endured a very wet April and June that year so nothing is certain. That said I feel our climate, temperature and rainfall-wise, is in a different place to what it was just 20 years ago and for sure the demand for water is definitely on the up judging by the number of houses being built everywhere. Perhaps this is part of our infrastructure that the government will ignore at their peril (because they’ve plainly given up with roads and other infrastructure), that of water supply to the population.

The last time we did endure a very dry year with insufficient water levels going into it, the golf industry was treated very much like the runt of the litter when it came to amenity surfaces and their management. Let’s hope the weather swings round and gives us a nice bit of balance between temperature and rainfall and we don’t repeat that experience.

General Weather Situation

Onto Monday’s weather and running late today already 🙁 Some of us are indeed experiencing sunshine and showers weather as we start the week with a raft of showers sitting across Ireland, west and mid-Wales and pushing up in that familiar band from the south coast up into Oxfordshire and west London. That pretty much sets the pattern for today really because we have an Atlantic low trying to feed in those showers but their bias will be mainly north and west. The heaviest rain will be for Ireland and the west of Scotland but with that low close by, expect showers across the west and north of England, Wales as well. Here’s how they’re stacked up currently..The showers across Wales and the south of the U.K are moving north and east.

So not a bad February’s day, dry for most away from those shower bands and mild with it, but maybe a little cooler than the weekend with temperatures between 8-11°C and accompanied by a brisk south-westerly, veering westerly wind.

Those showers should fizzle out during the course of Monday evening and then we will see a largely dull and not too cold night with temperatures down in the mid-low single figures. Starting Tuesday we will still have some thicker cloud base over northern England and western Scotland, thick enough for some mizzly drizzle. During the morning we will see another band of rain from that nearby low pressure push into the west of Ireland and this will push east across country reaching Leinster after lunch and then crossing the Irish Sea into Scotland by dusk. Away from this rain front, Tuesday should offer a mainly dry, but dull day and that cloud cover will peg temperatures down to just under double figures, so feeling cooler and nipper than of late. Overnight that rain will push into the western half of the U.K, at this stage from mid-Wales northwards but there may be a chance it pushes some showers into The Midlands overnight (wishful thinking maybe). The wind will continue to be westerly / south-westerly.

Stop Press !

Just had a quick look at where the rain was falling at 11.30 a.m. You can see how some people can easily report rain and others not 🙂 Talk about a narrow shower band compressed between an Atlantic low and a continental high !

So Wednesday starts very unsettled with plenty of showers spread across Ireland, western and central Scotland, northern England and north Wales. During the morning there’s a chance some of these will push further inland into the Midlands and north-east England, clearing Ireland as they do so. By Wednesday afternoon the rain will be sitting across Wales, north-west England and western Scotland and furthest east will see plenty of thick cloud so another dull day with precious little chance of seeing the sun. Feeling milder than Tuesday though with temperatures up in the low double figures despite the thick cloud cover and still with a south-westerly wind. Wednesday night may be quite mild and with a dropping wind we could see some pretty heavy dews.

Onto Thursday and this is the day when we start to lose the influence of that Atlantic low pressure system as the wind swings round from west to southerly through the course of the day. That change in wind direction will affect both cloud cover and temperature. Putting some detail on it, Thursday looks to start dull with thick cloud (again) and some of that cloud over West Wales and The Lakes may be heavy enough for some light rain. During the morning we see another rain front approach Ireland but instead of pushing into the west as per normal, it will take a hike northwards. This is due to the influence of an emerging high pressure system which will push any rain up and over the U.K and Ireland. As a consequence, we will start to see breaks in the cloud cover going through Thursday, starting with southern England but rapidly spreading northwards to give a sunny afternoon and evening just about everywhere. In the sunshine, temperatures will pick up to the mid-teens, Scotland and Ireland will perhaps be the last areas to benefit from this change with slightly lower temperatures until the end of the week.

Closing out the week, Friday will see a cracking day, pretty much everywhere with long spells of sunshine and rapidly rising temperatures after a single figure start. A moderate southerly wind will be ushering up that warm air from ‘The Med’ and that’ll set the pattern for the end of the week / weekend. At this stage Meteoblue are predicting 16°C for Friday and the likelihood is that it will climb higher over the weekend.

So the outlook for the weekend looks pretty sweet really with long spells of winter (?) sunshine, a warm southerly wind and maybe a bit more in the way of cloud cover creeping over on Sunday across Ireland and the west of the U.K. I could do with this cloud cover moving a bit further west for my fly fishing please 🙂

Weather Outlook

Image courtesy of Meteocentre.com

Above is the GFS image for the start of next week and you can clearly see the peak pattern in the jet stream which is providing us such early season warmth. Low pressure sits west, north and east of us with the peak pushing any rain up to Iceland and then down into Scandinavia. So looking at the longer-term projections this peak pattern looks to be in place for the start of next week but gradually through the first part of next week, the dominant high pressure will get slowly pushed aside and low pressure will introduce more unsettled weather from mid-week. First off into Ireland and then later in the week across the west and north of the U.K.  So no long-term run of dry weather (though it’ll be two weeks with no rain by then over here in The Midlands) with a more unsettled start likely for the beginning of March with deep low pressure systems pushing in from the west.

Agronomic Notes

Early season growth…

The 26GDD projected for the next 7 days will represent a nice bit of recovery for a lot of different areas.

First off in disease scars carried over from the winter and also for winter tees and winter season pitch outfields alike, both recipients of heavy wear over the winter. With soil temperatures hitting double figures already and probably inching up on that later this week, late autumn and dormant seeding work will begin to bear fruit and put some tillering into those drill lines from last autumn.

All good news in my book. Some areas of the U.K are dry and this week’s run of dry weather culminating with higher than normal temperatures at the weekend will cause some surface layer dry-down but with E.T levels sitting around 1.5mm per day, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern at this stage of the season. If I could see another week of the same after this weekend, I would be more worried but if the gradual breakdown of the weather pattern pans out as projected then we should be fine with rain falling on warm soil.It is a warning maybe to get your irrigation primed up early though if it’s an option just to hand water any hot spots that develop ?

Looking at the month overall, with 35GDD recorded here in The Midlands up until yesterday and another 26-odd for the week ahead, it looks like February 2019 will comfortably come in as the warmest February since we started recording these stats in 2010 and I bet the mildest on record from a Met Office standpoint. (Cue Daily Express headlines)

Using the window…

So if I had the choice between a traditional aeration date already booked in March / April and going this week, would I do so ? Yes, I think I would because the earlier you aerate, the earlier you’ll get recovery and most importantly in these times of revenue streams and early season cash flow, work carried out in February must have a lower impact on the above than the same in March and April.

The above is a picture of a green that was ‘Gradened’ on the 7th January, so 5 weeks ago. You can see it’s well on the way to repairing over and as we know with this machine, a good amount of organic matter in the top 25mm will have been removed. A nice topdressing this week onto a dry leaf and jobs a good ‘un. Some greens on this course had also been hollow cored twice since the same date and they were already 80% recovered.

I know I harp on about this a lot but one of our key objectives must be to adapt to a changing climate from an industry perspective. My feeling is that having seen early aeration carried out over the last 10 years or so, across a whole myriad of different starts to the year from a weather perspective, I haven’t seen one negative, only positives.

You could also add to this that later aeration in the traditional spring slot probably coincides with more potential issues related to Leatherjackets, Chafers and Bibionids.

Insect activity

Speaking of which out walking at the weekend I noted an increase in the number of Corvids (Crow species) feeding in the fields, no doubt on grubs. I’ve also noted an increase on Twitter over the last week in the number of courses reporting Badger grazing on Chafers / Leatherjackets / Bibionids so there’s a negative flipside to a milder start to the year.

On the course I visited we noted one tee showing a loss of density / cover and the culprit in this case was Bibionid larvae. These guys tend to live right in the surface of the thatch and can be found in clusters.  You can just see the caramel-coloured larvae at the point of my knife. Now you could argue that by aerating or presenting aeration holes early in the year, the chances of this becoming an issue are higher. I’d argue the opposite because the traditional months of March and April offer a higher likelihood for this to be an issue. Leaving this topic on a positive, the section taken above showed some really good rooting so hopefully that will help sustain a grass population into the spring despite the negative attention of Bibionids. The lack of an insecticide that we can use all-year-round remains a weakness in our industry and one we don’t actually share with amenity turf in continental Europe.

I’m off to Germany later this week to do a workshop at the German Greenkeepers Conference and whilst I note that they have very little available from an effective control of Microdochium perspective, they do have access to a really good insecticide. Mutual recognition anyone …….yeah right ?

For your information here’s a list of what is currently available across The North Sea from a pesticide basis. Credit to them as an industry for their pro-activity and efforts in achieving this against a backdrop in the rise of the German Green Party, I know the process isn’t an easy one.

Like us, their industry sector is adapting and hopefully we can all learn together from our experiences…

Disease activity this week…..

It’s a tricky dynamic this week in terms of disease development but on balance I don’t think the coming week will represent sustained high disease pressure. First off we have the same weather pattern as last week in that high day-time temperatures won’t necessarily correspond to high night-time temperatures with Tuesday night into Wednesday and Wednesday night into Thursday probably representing the mildest nights, heaviest dew and highest disease potential. We will also have a reasonable strength wind for most of the week which will keep the leaf dry for longer.

I would probably pick Wednesday night into Thursday as the highest disease pressure period after that it will drop away. I’d also hope that with more grass growth this week we will see any new infection being grown out as quick as it forms as long as you are on top of your nutrition. So yes, some activity around existing scars and possible new infection. Let me know if you wouldn’t mind what you see.

Fine Turf Grass Species….?

One of the cornerstones of an effective IPM program going forward is definitely trying to work towards a mix of grass species on greens and thereby increasing the resilience of the sward to Microdochium and other diseases. Now I’ve always been pro bentgrass from this perspective and in particular creeping bentgrass because I believe it has better breeding from a disease resistance perspective in terms of both Microdochium and Anthracnose.

So I was particularly interested in a debate on Twitter about overseeding ryegrass into a fine turf environment and its ability to withstand very close mowing as well as offer better disease resistance. I’ve often heard this spoken about and have seen a number of courses who have done this for many a year now, especially those that take heavy play and / or have small greens with limited pin positions. My feeling is that it does perform well and contributes less to thatch production than Poa annua whilst offering lower disease susceptibility to Microdochium and Anthracnose. Now I’m guessing this is too big a leap for our industry at the moment and we shouldn’t just work in a reactive fashion but don’t discount it as one for the heretics.

Reading New Scientist it is quite amazing what scientists are achieving now with genetic engineering and in particular gene editing using CRISP. Recently there was an article where scientists had boosted the efficiency of photosynthesis in a plant species by 50% in terms of conversion of sunlight into biomass production. (You can read about it here)

I note also how research is being focussed on improving disease resistance in other plant species like Bananas (here). Who knows if one day the grass species we overseed with won’t be genetically modified so it is already resistant to Microdochium / Anthracnose and therefore doesn’t need pesticide applications ?

Of course that wouldn’t be allowed within the E.U currently but I won’t go down that road today 🙂

I’ll leave you with that thought, enjoy your week.

Mark Hunt