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At Penn State, the Grass is Always Greener

Data from the state's most recent agricultural census identified Pennsylvania's fastest-growing agricultural sector as the "green industry" -- businesses that grow, sell, install, and maintain lawns, shrubs, and flowers along with gardening-related goods such as fertilizers, mulches, tools, and other items. Pennsylvania is a national leader in the green industry, ranked fourth in the number of farms producing horticultural crops in 1997.
Matthew Shaffer, director of golf course operations, Merion Golf Club, 1974 alumnus, turfgrass management

Matthew Shaffer, director of golf course operations, Merion Golf Club, 1974 alumnus, turfgrass management

"Of the seven superintendents that have served Merion Golf Club since 1896, six have direct ties to Penn State. We continue to rely on Penn State for their expertise in soil science, fertility recommendations, weed science, and disease research, just to name a few. The education that I received from Penn State laid the foundation that helped me secure this position, but more importantly the continued support that I receive from Penn State today lets me keep it!"

With industry estimates of approximately 50 million acres of managed turf in the United States, turfgrass places third in total acreage among agricultural crops nationwide. In 1989, Pennsylvania's turf industry generated an estimated $1.5 billion annually, with more than 2 million acres devoted to turf in the state. Since then, the industry has grown substantially. If it were counted as an agricultural commodity, turf would be one of Pennsylvania's top two agricultural products, according to Grounds Maintenance magazine. The prominence of turfgrass in the state -- from golf courses and athletic fields to home lawns -- can be attributed in part to 75 years of world-renowned research and educational programs in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

The Payoff

Successful graduates

Through 2004, more than 2,000 people had graduated from Penn State's resident turfgrass program and gone on to occupy the most prestigious jobs in the turfgrass industry, including positions as superintendents at 15 (including the top four) of Golf Digest's top 25 U.S. golf courses. The program has the largest undergraduate enrollment among turf programs in the nation, with almost 90 percent of the students being in-state residents. Demand for Penn State turfgrass management students is consistently high, and the program's prestige and preparation translate into jobs -- the vast majority of undergraduates find ready employment opportunities in the field either before or shortly after graduation.

A worldwide reach. With the College of Agricultural Sciences' longstanding reputation as an internationally respected center of turfgrass education, it was only fitting that the college's turfgrass management program was the first course to be offered through Penn State's online World Campus distance-education program. From 1999 through 2004, more than 1,400 students applied to and 152 graduated from the online program. Anyone with Web access now can earn either a regular or advanced World Campus Turfgrass Certificate, and a four-year bachelor's degree soon will be available online.

Grassroots knowledge

Penn State Cooperative Extension programs and services help professional turf managers find solutions to ongoing problems and pursue lifelong learning via annual conferences and workshops. Four turfgrass conferences held throughout Pennsylvania attracted roughly 4,500 attendees during 2004, and 32 training classes in turfgrass management attracted more than 3,400 professionals. In southeastern Pennsylvania alone, extension educators visited 32 area sports and athletic fields to help managers develop facility-maintenance plans. Additional conferences, workshops, field days, and publications help Penn State disseminate new information and research findings to industry professionals. For consumers, a website ( http://cropsoil.psu.edu/turf/outreach ) helps homeowners establish, renovate, and maintain their lawns. Extension staff also consult with thousands of consumers and homeowners each year to help address challenging lawn care problems.

"The sun never sets on Penn State turfgrass"

Since the creation of Pennscott red clover in 1950, Penn State has been an acknowledged world leader in the development of improved turfgrass varieties and other products, including several bentgrasses that are considered to be industry standards: Penncross creeping bentgrass, Pennfine perennial ryegrass, Pennlawn creeping fine fescue, and Pennstar bluegrass. Today, Penn State--bred turfgrass varieties are used on 90 percent of all golf courses around the world. Penncross, one of the best-known Penn State varieties, serves as the worldwide standard against which all new bentgrasses are compared in temperate and cool subtropical climates in Europe, Asia, and Africa. And a Penn State invention, PennMulch, uses recycled newspaper and other papers in a replacement for traditional mulch that retains soil moisture, reduces erosion, and protects seeds while creating a use for large volumes of waste paper. Turfgrass program faculty have received numerous regional and national awards for excellence and innovations in turfgrass science.

Giving fields a sporting chance

Penn State's preeminence in turfgrass knowledge extends to the state's athletic and scholastic fields. Turfgrass faculty are nationally known experts on stadium turfgrass and athletic field construction, consulting for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Orioles, and the minor league baseball Reading Phillies, Harrisburg Senators, and Trenton Thunder, among others. The entire Philadelphia Eagles grounds crew is comprised of Penn State turfgrass graduates, and Penn Staters also work for the Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, and Detroit Tigers. In addition, many Division I-A collegiate programs employ Penn State alumni to help manage athletic fields. Penn State faculty developed PENNFOOT, a machine used to test the traction of athletic fields and establish industry wide traction-measurement standards. Shoe researchers and designers from Nike, Adidas, and Converse have utilized Penn State expertise and facilities to evaluate the traction of athletic shoes under various field conditions. Penn State also leads the way on research into synthetic turf systems that use ground-up rubber tires as infill. Because Pennsylvania's 1,300 schools spend more than $13 million annually to care for athletic fields, landscapes, and playgrounds, cost-effective management is important. Penn State collaborates with a professional field managers' organization annually to provide an in-depth class for school athletic directors and a conference that typically attracts more than 220 athletic field managers.

For more information, contact the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at 814-865-6541 or visit the Web at http://cropsoil.psu.edu/turf/outreach.