Farm growing major-league turf for pros
HAMMONTON — Players during Super Bowl LIII are to dig their cleats into the turf, leap and dive for balls on it and tackle and tug each other into piles atop it.
The big game at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is being played on synthetic turfgrass that features a recycled tire rubber “cushioning.”
The Philadelphia Eagles, the Chicago Bears, the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, all play on natural New Jersey turf.
Tuckahoe Turf, a 700-acre Hammonton farm, grows the “Game Day” bluegrass that carpets the teams’ First Energy Stadium and Lambeau, Soldier and Lincoln Financial fields.
The farm also serves Major League Baseball’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The debate over synthetic and natural turf has endured far longer than the controversy that erupted when New York fans in 1976 and 1977 lost their NFL home teams to the Garden State.
A 2015 review of NFL stadiums by a Texas lawn care company called LawnStarter found that nearly half of all football stadiums used natural turfgrass.
Synthetics help extend the life of a turf, protect it and reduce playing surface damage, Sports Turf Managers Association Executive Director Kim Heck said.
Synthetics have also been found to be harder, causing more serious football injuries. Natural turfgrasses are on the other hand subject to Mother Nature and the way that land and waters are managed.
According to the Synthetic Turf Council, artificial varieties improved when “infills” were introduced in the 1990s.
Synthetic “infills” between the grasses are typically made of the recycled, or “crumb” rubber, that absorbs impact and allows a field to play like a natural surface, NFL information shows.
Penn State’s Center for Sports Surface Research maintains studies showing that different brands of synthetic turfgrasses have different levels of infill and that newer synthetic offerings are safer than those that were available when the products were introduced in the 1960s with the Houston Astros.
Studies published into 2018 nevertheless show that football players sustained more serious injuries on synthetic turfs than they did on natural turfs.
Major League Baseball stadiums between 2013 and 2016 primarily featured natural turf, according to reports from MLB News and the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition.
Tuckahoe Turf as of the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture was one of 1,881 sod farms throughout the United States.
The Elmer Betts family of Stamford, Conn., grew cranberries and lima beans near the tannin- and iron-rich Tuckahoe River soon after moving to the area in the 1930s. In the 1960s, they converted it to a sod farm.
Tuckahoe Turf, like other sod farms, grows for residential and development use.
The farm’s bluegrass, a European and northern Asia native, is found in cool, humid climates, according to the Texas Cooperative Extension.
Tall fescue, another Tuckahoe Turf European native, is adapted to a “transition zone” where summers are too hot and winters too cold for other grasses, the Texas Cooperative Extension notes.
The farm’s turfgrasses grow in a well-drained sandy loam soil that typically requires frequent watering. In 2018, flooding problems cost the company $50,000, including applications used to spot treat fungus, Business Adminsitrator Allen Carter said.
New cultivars of existing natural grasses are consistently being introduced, and more than 100 new varieties of tall fescue alone have debuted in the past 25 years, according to Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech’s Maryland-Virginia Turfgrass Variety Recommendation Work Group each year recommends to growers those that have been formally evaluated and that have performed well at different sites for at least two years.
Tuckahoe Turf considers new cultivars and has had universities conduct research on-site, Carter said.
“We work closely with the teams on evaluating new and upcoming cultivars,” Carter said. “We look for wear, color, texture, fungi resistance, recovery and growing abilities.”
The NFL leaves playing surface safety, maintenance and the ability to meet competitive standards up to home fields, the league contends.
Field certification experts are responsible for testing all fields for hardness as many as 72 hours before a game, according to the NFL.
The experts must as part of this repair and retest before game day any spots that are too hard or too soft, the NFL notes.
Synthetic fields particularly must be certified for infill far enough in advance of every game so that crews can make any necessary repairs, the NFL reports.
The infill is tested for depth and evenness to make sure that it isn’t too soft or too hard and that the infill is evenly distributed.
Crews in areas that are uneven can remove or smooth the infill, the NFL notes.
The natural surfaces of NFL athletic fields are tested for moisture content when they are tested for hardness, according to the league.
Fields are also subject to stability tests within 48 hours after a game to determine whether or not they need to be resurfaced.
These tests explore how easily the grass separates from the soil and the percentage of the field covered by the grass, according to the NFL.
Tuckahoe Turf typically replaces less intensively used baseball and soccer fields every six to seven years as compared with football’s 2 1/2 to three years or so and supplies these fields a more shallow sod depth than the heavy 1 1/2-inch depth that allows players to dig into it without it moving, Carter said.
Football fields that host concerts and other events also require more frequent replacements, he said.
Pro-level stadiums are not required to test soils, but non-pro fields have closed when arsenic was found in soils.
Penn State’s Center for Turfgrass Science provides regular research on turfgrass soil science, fertilizers, chemical and organic weed and pest control and more.
Carter clarified that Tuckahoe Turf “does not have any toxins under growing turfgrass or in our turfgrass.”
Field managers visit Tuckahoe Turf several times during the year looking for strong, healthy and dark turfgrass, fast delivery and professional installation, Carter said.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925