"Hell, I did that 30 years ago"

I enjoyed listening to my friends Dave Wilber and Kevin Ross in their TurfHead Jam Session this week. They’d put out some teasers that they would be discussing #ClipVol, so I made sure to listen as soon as the podcast came out, to see what these industry veterans had to say about that.

The section about clipping volume starts at 49:55, and they begin with lots of laughter and then these various observations:

  • an American superintendent used metric units
  • is this busy work?
  • Kevin was doing this 30 years ago, back then they just called it “clippings”
  • Kevin’s given 8 or 10 presentations this year and only 1 person in the audience is doing this
  • older superintendents seem not to like this, in fact, one can really get them going (I assume this means in a bad way) if one would bring up clipping volume
  • they always knew what their clipping volume was, back in the day
  • they weren’t desk jockeys when they were superintendents
  • it’s all about playability

I appreciate that this is nothing new, that turf managers have always and still do pay careful attention to how much the grass is growing, and that Dave and Kevin are supporting that focus, have always been interested in working things out, and they obviously realize that the amount of growth is important as it relates to playability.

But as I listened to them talk about clipping volume, I got the sense that they missed a few things, or perhaps haven’t read much about #ClipVol or seen how this is actually done.

I’d like to supplement what they said with a few things.

First, this is easy. It takes almost no time. In a lot less time than it takes to measure the soil moisture on a green, you can have a standard measure of how much the grass is growing.

And the units, whether in metric or whatever, can be forgotten if one likes. It works out to be a scale that goes from, in almost all normal grass growth situations, from 0 to 100.

Second, I’m not sure who was in the audience at Kevin’s seminars this year. I also speak at a lot of seminars, and my experience has been that more people in the audience are measuring #ClipVol than I expected.

Third, Dave and Kevin were doing this 20 and 30 years ago, paying attention to how many clippings they were getting. “We always knew what our clipping yield was,” they said. I understand that. But I think they would have trouble communicating what the clipping yield was to turf managers in another part of the county, let alone on the other side of the country or other side of the world.

Let’s now jump ahead to right now, when two experienced turfgrass managers, consultants, and retired superintendents can sit down, record a podcast, and broadcast that all over the world to whoever wants to listen. That’s awesome, it’s a great time to be alive, and I love listening to how they did things back in the day.

Another great thing about the world today is that anyone can ask a question to essentially the world. For example, a superintendent in Oregon growing fine fescue could ask through TurfNet or Twitter for colleagues in Scotland also managing fine fescue greens, what are they doing to get the best conditions in terms of topdressing, fertilizer, irrigation, and by the way, what kind of clipping yield does that produce? They might even get an answer!

But there’s a problem with knowing what your clipping yield is in terms of basket empties, or in general terms of growing a lot or not growing much, and actually expressing that as a number. I’m the only desk jockey I know of making tons of calculations and charts about this, so I’ve tried that measure of amount of clippings in the basket, or empties, and it just doesn’t transfer.

If that growth number did transfer from site to site, just like other measures we use such as ET, soil temperature, mowing height, and so on, maybe turf managers from the younger generations could make good use of that. And just like a podcast can go out to the whole world, so also can questions or information about how much the grass is growing. I’m not going to elaborate on all the ways that the number can be used—see the ClipVol project page for a list of resources about this—but I do find it useful in a lot of ways.

No one has to measure the clipping volume. It’s not necessary to measure clipping volume to produce good turf. But it is easy and it can lead to improved playing conditions with less work done to the turf. So I expect more and more people in the audience at Kevin’s seminars to be familiar with this, or actually measuring clipping volume, in years to come.

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