MLSN

MLSN @ Nikanti GC. Reducing Expenses and Inputs Since 2016

Is it possible to reduce fertiliser expenses by 69%? I certainly wouldn't have thought so 2 years ago. I used to dig my heels in a little at monthly P&L meetings when management would ask to reduce our expenses, but once I started to embrace it as a challenge, it was like new motivation! To maintain our surfaces at the same high standard or better, for a fraction of the price. 

In my previous post regarding Phosphorus and our use of the MLSN guidelines, I mentioned that apart from the improvements in turf performance, we have seen some positive results on the bottom line and that is what I would like to share with you now.

While the MLSN Guidelines have played a major role in reducing our expenses, they can't take all the credit. There is another major change we made that shares equal weight with our decision to follow the MLSN and that is to use only soluble fertiliser compounds. We no longer use any liquid or slow release granular fertilisers as part of our normal fertility program across all of our surfaces and in doing so, have seen huge savings. Now, I should clarify and say that we do still use a liquid and granular humic acid product on our greens with great results, but apart from that, everything else is a soluble compound fertiliser.

As this post is mainly about sharing some positive consequences after following the MLSN Guidelines, I will perhaps write another post further expanding on our use of soluble fertilisers. For now, I will leave you with this great article from the team at the Green Section Record titled "Does the Grass Know the Cost?"

 Figures shown are for greens only. P and K figures are displayed as elemental P and K and not P2O5 and K2O.

Figures shown are for greens only. P and K figures are displayed as elemental P and K and not P2O5 and K2O.

The above graph illustrates what may be some typical results after following the MLSN guidelines. These figures will vary from course to course depending on what nutrient reserves are currently in the soil but I am sure that anyone who begins following the guidelines will report a reduction in fertiliser application. I do apologise for not having our application figures for 2015 but they were lost during a transition to a new computer, however I do remember that they were only slightly higher than the 2016 figures.

Some of you may comment that the N:K ratio is not correct and we are not supplying enough K, this is due to the fact that we had enough K in the soil reserve at the start of the year and in fact applied zero K for some time. We now apply K regularly as the grass requires in a ratio of 1:0.7 for Bermuda and 1:1 for Paspalum.

My goal when first starting to follow the MLSN Guidelines was to reduce the soil reserve of each element to the MLSN value and observe the results. I have since done so with the elements above except for Calcium, as there is a large soil reserve and Magnesium, as this is ever present in our water supply in high amounts. I have not seen any detrimental results thus far as a direct result of following the MLSN Guidelines. I have only seen positives.

So, is it possible to reduce your fertiliser budget by 69%?

 Figures converted to US Dollars from Thai Baht at a rate of 34 Thai Baht to US$1.00

Figures converted to US Dollars from Thai Baht at a rate of 34 Thai Baht to US$1.00

We are still a long way from the minimalists of the world like Jason Haines and the results they are achieving. Check out his writings on his experiences and results following the MLSN Guidelines and the results that can be achieved.

But again, each course and their circumstances are different and I hope this can provide some motivation/inspiration or at the very least, something to think about the next time your preparing your budget, fertility program or being asked to reduce expenses.

How Much Phosphorus Do You Actually Need?

Zero! Except after a scheduled aeration. I exaggerate but that is indeed how much I thought I needed to apply in the early days of my career. Phosphorous is bad, it makes the plant puffy and the leaf soft. (Sigh) Don't really know what I was thinking back then but I am so happy I have now educated myself and know some great people that are so willing to give their time to answer my questions.

So it has been around 8 months since we started following the MLSN guidelines and we have been very happy with the results, not just from a turf performance point of view but from the financial side as well! It is easy to think you are now an expert at this point, growing great turf and saving the club a lot of money which can be spent elsewhere but it is easy to make mistakes as we all know. I will now share with you some of mine, so that you may learn from them as I did.

One particular point I had overlooked with our new approach was the relationship between the MLSN guidelines, soil pH and the testing methods of the laboratory. The particular lab we use for our soil fertility analysis uses the Ammonium Acetate method for the Ca, K, Mg, Na and for Phosphorus they use the Bray method for our Fairways as the pH is below 7.5 (most likely due to the amount of ammonium sulphate we apply) and the Olsen method for our greens and tees as the pH is above 7.5. This is important as in some cases the figures vary greatly which will  impact on your turf performance.

 The MLSN Guidelines. Figures are in ppm.

The MLSN Guidelines. Figures are in ppm.

The Mehlich 3 figures are sourced from the latest MLSN Guidelines from 2014 while the Bray and Olsen figures are sourced from the 2012 MLSN update.As for the Ammonium Acetate figures, I will leave it to the always helpful Micah Woods to explain from a recent email conversation below

For K, Ca, and Mg, I expect ammonium acetate is used by the lab for every
pH. So you can make an estimate by using conversion equations such as
these:

http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/publications/soilconversion.html

I think there may be a little bit of trickiness involved with that,
because those units are lbs per acre, and the MLSN guidelines are in ppm
and we make those recommendations for a 4” (10 cm) soil depth. This is all
understandable once one works through it, I assure you.

From the Cornell equation, for K, it is written as:

(M3-K in ppm * 0.84) x 2 = Ammoniumacetate K in lbs/acre

If you have ammonium acetate K in ppm already, that means the lab already
divided the lbs/acre by 2. So to convert to estimated values of Mehlich 3
K, you take your potassium (K ppm) and divide in by 0.84. That gives you
the estimated K ppm if it was done by Mehlich 3.

And that same process could be done for Ca and Mg.

Another oversight was while I was having no issues with the calculations to determine the amount of an element I needed to apply and the forecasted use of the element by the plant, I could not understand why my forecasted ppm value for P was so far off the actual P quantity in the soil test reports. I then realised my mistake, which some may call amateur but what I realised was that I was using the Phosphorus quantities on the fertiliser bag (P2O5) instead of actual P to make the calculations and once I adjusted the equation, my forecasted figure was less than 1ppm from the actual result of the soil analysis! Read this blog post from Micah for more info regarding the P2O5 conversion.

Now back to the question at hand. How much phosphorus do you actually need? Well it largely depends on the lab testing method and your pH. For me, I only need to stay above 6ppm in my greens and tees and 30ppm in our fairways. Also, you should always remember that the MLSN Guidelines are in fact only guidelines and the figures quoted below are the minimum amount required for the plant, you should always aim to be above that minimum.

Some of you may be asking "What about root growth?". Well I can only tell you from my experience following the MLSN over the past 8 months is that we have seen a steady increase in root depth over the last 12 months which I attribute to suppling sufficient amounts of Phosphorus (no visual P deficiencies observed), our cultural program and our heavy focus on maintaining a consistent daily volumetric water content of between 15 to 22% in our greens. 

Now while these results may not be staggering, they are realistic.

If you are new to the MLSN Guidelines and want to know more or perhaps how to start at your facility, you can see how we started the journey in this previous post and for more information on the calculations check out this post.

MLSN Update and Calculations

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great time with friends and family. I was lucky enough to travel around Central Europe with my Fiancé, eating a ridiculous amount of food and soaking up some incredible sights like the one below.

Now back in Thailand, we have been experiencing some unusually wet and miserable weather for this time of year. Receiving a little over 46mm the past 5 days when we wouldn't normally see a drop. The turf has reacted with a flush of growth and an unfortunate consequence of a drop in green speeds. 

Spectacular view from our hotel in Austria

Before I left for Europe I published my first ever blog post and was blown away with the amount of feedback and page visits it received. There were a total of 480 visits since I published the article last month, with many people contacting me with questions and positive feedback. 

To start off the new year, I thought I would give a quick update on our fertility program, show the calculations I use to estimate soil ppm values and plan for future applications.

What I didn't mention in my previous post was that we are not only following the guidelines on our greens, but course wide. So I have shared my soil test results for the tees and fairways below so you can see where we stand on all playing surfaces at the start of the trial.

Tees above and Fairways below.

As I've shown in my previous post, the lab targets for Calcium and Magnesium always seem to be unattainable and only lead to frustration and what seems to be an over-application of fertiliser. It is still only early days, but the MLSN guidelines just seem to make sense. Why apply fertiliser if the plant is not showing signs of a deficiency or continue to apply if there is no measurable response from the plant after application?

You can see from the graphs that the Calcium and Magnesium levels in the tees and fairways are more than sufficient and still have quite a ways to go until reaching the MLSN while Sulphur I fear will always be an issue due to the high concentrations in our water supply. We will be starting to apply Potassium to our fairways this month and based on my calculations, we still have sufficient levels in our tees for at least another 2 months. We will also be making an application of Phosphorus to the tees this month which should bring the soil levels above the MLSN and have enough reserve to carry us through to our scheduled aeration in April.

Micah Woods has always been helpful in answering any questions I have had about the MLSN guidelines and I'll share his explanation below from a recent email on how to calculate how many ppm of a certain element you are adding to the soil.

1 gram spread on one square meter is the equivalent of 6.7 ppm if it were to spread evenly through a 10 cm deep rootzone.

You can customize this however you like. For most situations, I like to work with a 10 cm rootzone and a soil bulk density of 1.5 g per cubic centimeter. If you prefer to work with a different rootzone depth, or a different bulk density, then you can make similar calculations as I show here for finding the correct conversion factor.

1 square meter on the surface has an area of 100 cm x 100 cm = 10,000 cm2

The volume of 1 m2 to the depth of 10 cm is 10,000 cm2 x 10 cm = 100,000 cm3 = 100 L

So we have 1 gram of fertilizer to apply across one square meter, and we want to know how much that should change 100 L of soil. Or we don’t apply fertilizer, and we try to predict how much the soil will go down based on the quantity harvested by the grass.

1 gram is mass. 100 L is volume. And ppm is mg per kg. So we need to convert the soil from volume to mass. Sand usually has a bulk density of about 1.5 g/cm3. So 100 L of sand rootzone will have a mass of 150 kg.

Now we have mass into mass. 1 gram at the surface = 1000 mg into 150 kg = 1000/150 = 6.7 ppm.

Based on the above method as well as the calculations in these articles from the USGA and ATC, a more detailed explanation in "A Short Grammar of Greenkeeping" and general ratios of each element in the leaf (table below) you can calculate the amount of each element used by the turf, remediate any deficiencies as well as predict how long the soil reserve will last for.

 Element use per 10g of Nitrogen applied per grass species. Based on general leaf tissue ratios.

Element use per 10g of Nitrogen applied per grass species. Based on general leaf tissue ratios.

Hole 4 at Nikanti Golf Club - January 2017

Apart from the temporary reduction in green speed due to the flush of growth from recent rainfall, we have not yet suffered a reduction in turf performance due to the change in our agronomic program.

I will post another update on our use of the MLSN guidelines after we receive the results of our soil tests next month but before that I will share a few thoughts and strategies for managing organic matter. 

All the best for 2017!

The Start of Something New - MLSN!!

I am often found wondering on how to better myself and the techniques we use as turf managers, to obtain the sometimes unrealistic goals we place on ourselves in our endless pursuit of perfection. It is this pursuit however, this passion for turf and the science behind it which keeps me eager to learn and challenge myself, to always improve and develop a better way of how we do things. Whether that is to do with turf management and the environment, or leadership, budgeting and planning, communication, or employee management and education, I will often enjoy reading about new research and articles written about these subjects and look forward to testing them on the course and with my team.

It is these subjects, the trials, my past, present and future experiences in turf management and maybe a little about the life of an international superintendent that I will be attempting to write about in this blog. 

A little about me... I grew up on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia in a small town called Bermagui where I also started my career in turf management. From there I made my way over to the U.S. for 12 months on the Ohio State program before coming back to Australia. I was then off again to South East Asia where I have been for 5 years with a stint in Brunei on the tropical island of Borneo and currently in Thailand as the Director of Golf Course Maintenance at Nikanti Golf Club, Bangkok. Just over 3 years ago and my second year in Asia, I attended a turf seminar and golf day held at Springfield Country Club in Hua Hin, Thailand where I was lucky to meet (sweep her off her feet) my fiancee Blue. As there are usually not many girls that attend such events, I was very lucky to find her. For which I am very grateful, she has been very supportive of everything I set out to achieve in my career and long story short, we will be married next February!

Over the past year we have conducted several trials with machinery, grass types and agronomic programs which has allowed our course conditioning to improve as well as decreasing the bottom line. Most recently of which is our implementation of the MLSN guidelines.

For years I have been following the recommendations from soil testing laboratories trying to create the "ideal soil" with the correct ratios of nutrients. After each soil test I would follow the recommendations, most of the time adding more and more calcium. After each test my ppm values would increase along with the "target" ppm values which kept getting higher and higher until it seemed I would never reach it. I grew frustrated with the recommendations and after reading article after article and research papers online, I came across the MLSN guidelines produced by Pace Turf and Dr. Micah Woods. If you haven't heard of it before, you can find the article by Pace Turf here and an article by Micah on how to use the guidelines here. Jason Haines has been using MLSN for the past 4 years and has some great data on his blog.

I was immediately attracted to the MLSN approach as it just made so much sense. You only apply the quantity of nutrients that the plant is actually using based on the ratio of nutrients in the leaf, the quantity of Nitrogen applied and clipping yield.

I have started adopting this approach from September 2016 and am currently in my 3rd month and have not applied an application of Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium or trace elements (except foliar Fe) in those 3 months. The graphs show our month by month ppm values and my aim will be to reduce them down to the MLSN guidelines before applying the nutrients as the grass needs them. You can clearly see how different and varied the target recommendations from the lab are (Ca, Mg, K) compared to the MLSN. No wonder I was confused and frustrated.

 Typical Irrigation Water Analysis from our site

Typical Irrigation Water Analysis from our site

I should mention that even though we have only applied Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Humic Acids for the past 3 months, the quantity of Magnesium, Calcium and Sulphur in the soil fluctuate due to the high levels in our irrigation water. Our water source is a river which runs adjacent to the course which we have tested monthly as the levels of all elements constantly fluctuate. I suspect this is from the large amount of agricultural areas fronting the river upstream, including rice paddies, shrimp farms and pig farms as well as manufacturing plants.

Greens are still in good shape with 3 months of no K, only applying N and P with a little Mg and Ca from irrigation

Based on our November soil analysis, I am predicting I will have to start re-applying Potassium at the end of this month as the soil ppm drops to the MLSN level. We will be taking more soil samples early in the new year, so we will see how accurate my calculations are.

As I am posting this, we are on our way to Europe for Christmas so I am planning my next blog entry for the new year. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all!