Artificial turf may be the hot new thing in sporting field surfaces but researchers say it’s time to get back to reality.
Speaking at the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane this week, head of research at the Sports Turf Research Institute Dr Ruth Mann said finding ways to grown durable, shade-loving turf was critical if sports lovers hoped to see a return of natural playing surfaces.
Despite installation costs almost double that of natural turf, the popularity of artificial turf has skyrocketed over the past few years because it is more durable and has lower maintenance costs than traditional grass.
But artificial turf, which is usually made of polyethylene plastic grass and an in-fill base of crumb rubber crumbs from recycled tyres, has also come under fire for a raft of potential health hazards which include exposing players to zinc and lead, toxic run-off during rain, increased risk and severity of turf burns, heat hazards from overheated plastic and issues around asthma and bacteria.
Which is why researchers say we need to get back to the real stuff.
Dr Mann, said the biggest problems of growing grass within large stadium environments is the different levels of shade on the field.
“We’re having these problems worldwide,” she said.
“Different parts of the pitch have different irrigation requirements.”
Dr Mann said light management through the use of supplementary lighting is the most important factor in growing and maintaining stadium turf, but between the lights and electricity required, the costs are high.
“At the moment, it’s incredibly expensive, and that’s one of the things we need to do to move forward, try and work out better ways of using the energy, and cheaper ways of gaining energy within the supplementary light,” she said.
Dr Mann said STRI are hoping to find better light sources to maintain turf in large stadiums which have no natural light.
“We need to look at better light sources with higher radiances that can allow us to grow the grass much more easily and hopefully much more cheaply,” she said.
“A lot of our research is looking well into the future and saying, ‘this is what you need to do to grow turf in that massive stadium with no light’.”