Golf Course Management

JUL 2013

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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The Godfather? He arguably is the godfather of the term "plant health." Now 70 years old, Leon Lucas, Ph.D., spent the majority of his career as a plant pathologist at North Carolina State University, an era more than two decades ago when it was popular to plant bentgrass in the South. Lucas recalls his days there testing new products that companies were selling, and says that experience prompted him to launch his own program. "I started doing what I call 'thinking on my own,' particularly with pythium disease on bentgrass," Lucas says. Lucas mixed the fungicide mancozeb (known as Fore) with another fungicide, Aliette, which targeted pythium diseases, and he says, "surprisingly during the summer we got much better turf quality. That was a new term at that time." His effort showed you actually could grow bentgrass in the South. "That, in my opinion, is when the modern day discussion about plant health began," says Frank Rossi, Ph.D., associate professor at Cornell University. Lucas, currently an agronomist for the Carolinas Golf Association, says back in those days he used phrases such as "disease control agents." "I guess that's kind of gone out of style," Lucas says. "One of my terms was 'summer decline.' I stressed it was improving the survival of the plant, and you could infer it improved the plant health." Syngenta technical representative Lane Tredway, Ph.D., who taught at North Carolina State, says: "He found that certain fungicide combinations could increase the health and quality of bentgrass putting greens aside from just the disease control benefts that they provided. That's really when people started to think about crop protection products as potentially providing additional benefts other than just controlling the disease or controlling biotic stress." The number of plant health-related products today intrigues Lucas. "There must be 500 products out there now," he says. "Some of them are new, some of them are old with a different name, some of them are a combination of three or four materials. I know some of them (plant health) are part of their marketing program. If they have the data to back it up, it's OK. I assume they have the data to show that the product does somewhat what they say it does." Asked if superintendents today have a grasp on what plant health means, Lucas imagines they understand the essence of it. "The superintendent understands the difference between dead grass and live grass," Lucas says. — H.R. 48 GCM July 2013 Rossi, though, thinks Bingru Huang, Ph.D., professor in Rutgers University's plant biology and pathology department, expressed the best defnition of plant health that he has seen. In an email to GCM, Huang defnes plant health as "plants that are in good physiological conditions that support active growth and stress tolerance." Times certainly have changed; the plant health angle has replaced the focus on controlling disease and pests. Yet until there is a unanimous defnition for plant health, well … "I think there's a lot of confusion in the marketplace right now about what plant health means," says Lane Tredway, Ph.D., technical representative at Syngenta. "It's really not anything new, but it's being framed and positioned as if it is something new and novel, and that's creating confusion. There's no one single product that can create plant health. It's about the overall agronomic program." Bayer's head of marketing, Scott Welge, says: "We don't have all the answers. What we want to do is be the leader in helping further defne plant health for the industry." Multiple choice? You bet BASF's Honor Intrinsic brand fungicide. Bayer's StressGard Formulation Technology. Syngenta's Daconil Action. Turf Max LLC's Turf Screen. Those are only a few of the options that are marketed as products that can aid plant health, perhaps defend the plant, induce systemic resistance material and put smiles on superintendents' faces. The total number of products that are marketed in that fashion seems to be far greater now than a decade ago. The words "plant health" can be viewed in advertisements, including those that appear in the pages of GCM. For example, BASF's ad for Honor Intrinsic brand fungicide with pyraclostrobin says it "delivers disease control and plant health benefts for turfgrass." Another company, Aqua- Some in the industry believe the modern day discussion about plant health began more than 20 years ago when plant pathologist Leon Lucas, Ph.D. (top photo), mixed two fungicides and applied it to declining bentgrass in the South.

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