Citing the fast growth of the turf industry, representatives of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have indicated a willingness to establish a branch devoted mainly to turfgrass research.
"The turf industry is big business and growing faster than any other segment of agriculture," said James Coppedge during a workshop in Dallas Jan. 22-24. "And turf has not gotten its share of federal research dollars."
Coppedge is with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in College Station, Tex., which served as meeting host.
The nation's largest ARS facility is in Beltsville, Md., home of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP), an arm of the privately funded National Turfgrass Federation (NTF). "Turfgrass has never been the highest priority in Beltsville, but I think we're moving up," said NTEP executive director Kevin Morris. "The turf industry is dynamic but diverse and even fragmented. Different groups have some overlap [in their needs], but there are also separate, unique needs."
The ARS has 22 national programs, 1,100 projects, 7,000 employees (including 2,050 scientists), more than 100 laboratory locations, and a $980 million annual budget. It currently conducts turfgrass research that's affiliated with some of those 22 programs, including germplasm enhancement, variety release, irrigation systems, off-site environmental impacts, and alternatives to methyl bromide (a soil sterilant used mainly on golf courses).
If industry representatives can get U.S. Congressional approval, the ARS's turf research program would start with a modest fund and gradually grow over the years.
"My guess is that, if we re-evaluated our 2003 funding, the number would probably be less than $3 million," said Al Dedrick, head of the ARS National Program Staff. "There will be no transferring of dollars within the ARS. So what we want to do is have a plan for where the research will go -- a road map of turf interests. There's a real opportunity within the ARS."
Evert Byington was more specific. The ARS's national leader for rangeland, pastures and forage research said: "As we bring the turf program on, we want to look at turf's interrelationship with nursery crops and ornamentals. …