July 26th

Hi All,

Well as promised a few weeks back, a bit of a special blog this week where I’ll be imparting some information on what I’ve been up to over the last 15 months, where it takes me to now and where my future lies or more precisely doesn’t.

Before I get onto this I will of course be looking at our dear old friend, the weather. Well continental rainfall was up to its old tricks at the weekend !

We were forecast 25-30 mm over Saturday and Sunday and didn’t get any rain at all. Others in the south, south west and Wales got more than their fair share.

Last Wednesday I was working at our Turfgrass Research Centre in Essex, hand cutting plots, bagging up and weighing the clippings, its was 31.5°C and pretty hot work. I noticed the first Cumulonimbus cloud forming around 2 pm. As I headed home up the M11, the skies darkened, the wind got up and the temperature suddenly dropped to 18°C and then all hell let loose. I pulled over because the hail and rain intensity was so hard and impossible to drive in. Within 15 minutes it had moved on.

 

Later that evening in Market Harborough, I noticed a small storm cell forming just north of us over Kibworth, it was still 30°C and then it started raining, with the sun shining and just one grey cloud in the sky. Soon thunder and lightning followed and we got a torrential downpour.  We got 11 mm in the space of less than an hour but further north over Fleckney and Kibworth they received more rain, thunder and lightning but also a massive hailstorm that damaged property, cars and crops. A member of Kibworth Golf Club sent me this photo which I think is possibly from the greenkeepers shed ? Tough luck lads that was a shocker….

This weekend we saw some further torrential downpours in London and across the south of the country with some colossally high rain rates..

This screenshot of a Davis readout from a Central London weather station was sent into me by a fellow avid weather watcher and full-time Geek (in the nicest possible way Rob :))

Now OK the rainfall total isn’t massive but the rain rate is over 9″ per hour, that’s topical in terms of intensity and quickly overwhelmed our antiquated drainage systems. Of course The Met Office was quick to point out that our wettest July day was recorded back in 1955 in Martinstown, Dorset when 279 mm of rain fell in a day, but I wonder what the rain rate was then. And of course nowadays we have lots more houses, tarmac, people hard landscaping their gardens because they can’t be arsed to garden and worst of worst, putting down synthetic turf. All great shedders of flood water. So when you see those pictures of flooding on the telly, we are to blame for it in more ways than one….Meanwhile our inept government over-ride local housing objections and just keep on building and the fat developers just get fatter. What a corrupt system it is, but they haven’t factored in the weather and that will have the last say on the matter for sure….

OK rant over, onto a summary of this weeks weather….

General Weather Situation

So as projected, we have that sneaky BOB of a low pressure still sitting over the U.K and Ireland but Monday promises to be one of the ‘best’ days of the week if you like sunshine that is. Now as I thought it would, the low has introduced a trough into the jet stream shape and this trough will become occupied by another more intense, Atlantic low pressure later this week, so a cooler, more unsettled end to this week beckons.

So Monday starts dry for everyone but if you were standing on the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland and looking out to sea, you’d see some pretty wet weather heading for the west coast of Ireland this morning as the first front from that Atlantic low makes landfall. This rain front will make slow progress across Ireland during the day so the east may stay dry until the evening. A hop, skip and a jump across The Irish Sea into Wales, England and Scotland and here we have a relatively calm day, warm with light winds. Of course there’s a chance of thunderstorms and some localised heavy rain here for The South West, north east Scotland and across The North East this evening. Aside from that, most places should stay dry but keep an eye on your rain radar for a sneaky storm, you never quite know. A warm day with temperatures up into the mid-twenties across the country.

Onto Tuesday and that rain front over Ireland on Monday has now crossed The Irish Sea into The South West, the south coast and Wales. They’ll also be some lingering rainfall over the north of Ireland as well. So Tuesday is a much more unsettled weather picture with rain across the north and north east of Ireland and Scotland and another front moving across Wales, the southern half of the U.K during the day. The latter may end up pushing into The Midlands later possibly. The temperature will drop down to 20°C accompanied by fresher south westerly winds.

Wednesday sees that low pressure circulate round in the trough so another unsettled day with rain for the southern half of the U.K, anything from The Humber southwards I’d say and some potentially heavy rain for north east and Central Scotland. Ireland will also see plenty of showers but these will tend to be confined to the north of the country. So a sunshine and showers type of day and as with any rainfall this week, the chance of some thunder and lightning thrown into the hat. A noticeably stronger south westerly wind as well.

Onto Thursday and that blob of heavy rain has moved west across Scotland overnight and will then push into the north west of Ireland on Thursday morning. They’ll also be more rain for the north east of Scotland and some showers across the north west of England. Through the morning another tranche of heavy rain will push into The South West and move along the south coast during the course of Thursday afternoon. Across The Irish Sea, that rain over the north west of Ireland will track south and east across The Midlands and into Leinster, Wexford and Cork later in the day. Later in the afternoon we may see some showers track again across the southern half of England, pushed on by a strong south westerly wind which veers north westerly at the end of the day. A little chillier as well on Thursday with temperatures down in the mid to late teens across Ireland and Scotland and not much higher across England.

Closing out the week on Friday and overnight that heavy rain over the east of Ireland has crossed across the south of England, exiting stage right from the east of England during Friday. A drier day for most on Friday but we will still see showers across the west of Ireland and the north west and north east of England. Scotland should be drier. Later in the day a more consistent band of rain is set to form stretching down from the north west of England to East Anglia and that looks to set in for the evening. Feeling cooler with that north west wind.

The outlook for the weekend isn’t too bad, a sort of sunshine and showers day on Saturday but these will be mainly south and east with Ireland and the north missing most. Sunday sees more cloud cover and less in the way of showers. Temperatures will remain on the cooler side of ‘normal’ for the end of July going into August. We will have a cooler north westerly airflow and that’s what’ll keep the temperature down.

 

Weather Outlook

So as you can see from the above, what started as a little trough this week has developed into a bigger one as this week’s low pressure has enlarged the area of cooler, more unsettled air. You can also see just in the top left of the image, the leading edge of another Atlantic low pressure system and it looks like this will have a big influence on next week’s weather however….it isn’t all bad news because they’ll also be a high building to the south west of us and this will serve up a nice plume of better temperatures towards the end of next week and possibly holding over the weekend. So it may well be a north-south divide at the end of next week with Scotland and the north picking up more of the cooler, unsettled weather and the southern half of the country / Ireland enjoying some better temperatures possibly.

So in summary, next week looks to continue the unsettled and cooler weather with sunshine and showers and a north westerly airflow before settling down to a drier picture later in the week for the south but remaining cooler and unsettled further north.

Agronomic Notes

So a past, present and ultimately future feel to this week’s blog with what maybe a bit of a bombshell for some or maybe just a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘c’est le vie’ moment 🙂

Past to present….

So since May 2020 when most were in full-lockdown mode and I had just returned to work after the loss of my dear mum I got the opportunity to design and help grow in a new Turfgrass Research Centre for the Origin Amenity Group at the existing Throws Farm, Agrii research facility near Great Dunmow in Essex. It is probably the most fun I’ve had in ages when not in a boat fly fishing…it’s also been technically challenging, a lot of hard work including plenty of weekends last year when the irrigation system had many a ‘computer says no’ moment, necessitating a number of trips down to hand water. I’ve learnt quite a bit of practical greenkeeping as well much to the amusement of my customer base.

This was my first day on site and without going into detail I wasn’t a popular chap after I felt the need to make some ‘changes’

I’ve had a great team of people to work with. Fineturf did the build and initial cuts / rolling. Grassplant the maintenance cutting and we did the rest.

That’s fertilisation, fungicides, selective herbicide and surfactant applications, topdressing and irrigation management via Rainbird IQ3 and IQ4. The task was to grow in 1200m2 of fine turf using establishment from hollow cores on a USGA-spec rootzone on a very demanding site along with 1200 m2 of ryegrass from seed. Throws Farm is located on a hillside in Essex, just east of Great Dunmow and Stansted airport. It gets some really brutal winds and temperature in the summer with 6.92 mm, the highest E.T recorded to date. It also has plenty of humid, high pressure weather in the autumn and winter so ‘encouraging disease’ is never going to be a problem on this site.

I chose hollow cores as a grow in method after working on some similar grow in’s elsewhere and because I wanted a Poa / Bent turf for trials as this represents a lot of golf courses around the U.K & Ireland. Establishing from cores is a story in itself not least because if they are allowed to dry out as the seedbank is establishing, you are well and truly scuppered to put it politely. I got some great practical help and advice from a brill superintendent (cheers John). Although we had contractors doing the cutting, everything else was to do, so we were busy.

I say ‘we’ because ‘we’ had a great team on site…notably the ‘two Petes’….Peter Read from Rigby Taylor and Pete Blackaby from Headland. This is a rare photo without a Starbucks Flat White or Cinnamon Bun in the picture because during this grow in I converted from Costa to Starbucks as the Stansted ‘Drive Thru’ was the only outlet for coffee that stayed open during the lockdown…..And a bloody welcome one it was too. There’s actually ‘3 Petes’ really because Peter Corbett from RT has also been of great assistance in this project. Cheers the ‘Pete collective’

So on July 1st, 2020 I was on site just after 5 a.m. to get the Preseed fertiliser and Mycorrhizal inoculant down on the rootzone before this lot turned up !

I may cover the grow in on another occasion but suffice to say it was a demanding, physically and mentally challenging process like any grow in is…Once the cores had been spread and laid by hand, we overseeded with Egmont Browntop bent and I applied a granular wetting agent to aid water penetration into the cores.

Two weeks later we had this and in the background you can see a Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station which was soon joined by an EnviroMonitor node in order to maximise on-site information. It’s hard enough doing a grow in, but when you live 87 miles away and are of an insecure nature, you need to know what’s going on, on site. This station was a life saver for me and all the info it supplied and continues to supply. Needless to say I’ve learnt a lot about Davis weather stations and have a great partnership with Peter Palmer from Pro data, the driving force on that side of things…Another Pete….

We fertilised, cut, rolled, dressed and then cut, rolled and dressed again. This process was for me the most important from an establishment perspective.

And after less than 4 months we were cutting at greens height….

We have some great technical partners on board which I may yet get to cover in this blog but for now I’d like just to thank my colleagues, Fineturf, Grassplant (especially Liam), Prodata, Soil Scout, Husqvarna and Rainbird (especially Richard White and Peter Longman) for their time, effort and support so far.

First class and our trials have already started to yield some really great info. Long may it continue….

That neatly brings me up to date to the present and actually to my future.

……………………………………………………

So back in the late spring, I had a really good opportunity in front of me work-wise and I thought about it long and hard. At the same time I had a health issue which also made me think a lot about time. Some of you will also be aware that my Dad has severe dementia and I’ve personally watched his decline from an intelligent, physically fit man to a shadow of his former self. It can’t help but make an impression on you.

Back in 1994, that same Dad brought me a book called ‘The Empty Raincoat’ penned by the Irish business philosopher, Charles Handy, a Wicklow man. At the time I didn’t understand why, but he asked me to read it and he said “You’ll find yourself described in there”. And I did. The book is all about modern living, businesses and their development and the parts / roles people play in them. It made a profound impression on me and particularly the part where it talks about the stages of growth of a business, the sigmoidal curve from rapid growth to plateauing out and the fact that the people, processes, structure and organisation that takes a business from ‘A to B’ are rarely those that take it from ‘B to C’….I read it whilst on Christmas holiday on the beautiful Isle of Arran.  I duly climbed Goatfell, the highest mountain on Arran, in the ice and snow on my own, sat with my back to the trig point on the summit and whilst sipping a flask of coffee and munching a well-earned Mars Bar, I decided to leave the company I was with then called ‘Scotts’. I left Scotts to join a little known business called Headland, headed up by Mark De Ath and Andy Russell, two great colleagues amongst many others at that company I have since met and worked with.

Fast forward to this spring and I found myself picking up that same book and reading and thinking. Finally I came to a decision, one of the hardest I have had to take I think and that is to step back from a full-time position in this industry. So from October I’ll be finishing up this here job of mine and potentially this blog. Now I haven’t made a firm decision on that or whether I’ll keep myself going with some work still in the industry hopefully to keep this brain of mine active and challenged as it has been brilliantly over the last 31 years or so by workingvin the turfgrass industry and dealing with our changing climate.

Obviously, I’ll have a think, keep everyone posted of developments in this blog and sign off appropriately if that’s what I decide to do. It’s always difficult staying ‘relevant’ and ‘informative’ and sometimes I’ve wondered to myself when I hit the publish button if this blog is such. I’d be interested as always to hear your viewpoints if you’d like to post a comment, please do.

In the meantime, enjoy a cooler week as I’m sure our grass will as well and lets hope for some nice gentle rain and warmth.

All the best.

Mark Hunt