THERE continues to be an urgent need for better data around the benefits of natural turf over synthetic materials as the natural product continues to be undervalued.
A panel thrashed out the issues at the recent Turf Australia Conference and Field Day held at Kirkton, NSW.
The context for the discussion was the need to the industry participants to become better advocates for turf with short, simple messages based on facts.
The panel comprised Turf Australia Chair Ross Boyle, Sports Turf Research Institute turf consultant Will Pearce and Sydney based sports physician Dr Leigh Golding.
Will Pearce said there was a lack of long term data about the effects, of synthetic surfaces, the detrimental aspects of synthetic turf and about wastage of synthetic turf (offcuts, etc).
Dr Leigh Golding said that there was an increased risk of Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) ruptures when playing contact sports on synthetic surfaces.
He said that in a hot climate synthetic surfaces retained heat for longer and on hot days there was an increased risk of heat illness.
Ross Boyle said “fake grass” was not zero maintenance and the process of disposal at the end of the product life was an issue.
Mr Boyle said the synthetic products were made from oil and gave off heat while not giving back oxygen (as natural grass did), while pet waste was also a problem on synthetic surfaces.
Dr Leigh Golding said friction injuries could result in infections while other injuries included ankle sprains and soft tissue injuries.
He said both players and parents were concerned about the injury risks on synthetic surfaces.
Mr Pearce recent research on synthetic surfaces showed the impact of temperature variations and time of day for use.
He said while cloudy weather and timing around sunset made synthetics more playable, there was an impact on event scheduling.
Water could also be applied to make the synthetic surface playable when temperatures rose.
Block size a bigger threat
Mr Boyle said that while synthetic surfaces had an impact in certain areas, the biggest threat to the turf production industry was the reduction in the average residential yard area.
He said houses were getting bigger and yards smaller and the Australian backyard was “becoming a myth”.
Mr Boyle said the advent of robotic mowers “might help the mowing haters”.
He said the industry needed to provide messages that synthetic surfaces were:
NOT zero maintenance;
Could get weed infested;
Didn’t absorb pollutants, dust, etc.
Did have a maximum shelf life; and
Could be damaged and require replacement.