Economic development rooted in funding forU turf grass research

by Sam Boeser

Two Minnesota senators introduced a new bill that would give $75,000 in each of the next three years for turf research at the University.

Co-authored by Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, the bill would add thousands of research dollars into an important field to the Minnesota economy.

“We are well-known for our turf research,” said Charles Muscoplat, dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences. “But we do less and less every year.”

Nancy Ehlke, an agronomy and plant genetics professor, said that if funding is secured in the bill, the money would fund the research and development of turf grass in the agronomy department by improving technical support.

Turf grass researchers at the University are currently studying strains of grass for several purposes, including strands that are resistant to winter conditions and others that are resistant to weeds and disease.

Officials said the University has funded turf grass research for approximately the last 50 years, but funding has been reduced.

“Inflation and budget cuts have just whittled away at it,” Muscoplat said.

The funding for turf grass research was not sought out by the University, but rather by the turf grass industry and citizens, Muscoplat said.

“It’s not a University priority,” he said. “The University isn’t interested in adding to it with our current lack of resources.”

The turf grass industry is big business for some Minnesota farmers, though. Many farms in northern Minnesota work solely with turf seeding, and it’s estimated to be a $15-million-a-year industry in the state, Muscoplat said.

After that money has been introduced into the local economy, it accumulates through transactions into approximately $100 million annually, he said.

“That’s a big economic impact in a small region,” Muscoplat said.

In an effort to understand grass that can flourish in different climates, researchers also occasionally work with Rutgers University on the development of new varieties of turf grass. Rutgers University is one of the top turf grass research institutes in the country, Ehlke said.

“We need to cooperate with other universities to study the grass in other climates,” Muscoplat said.

Ehlke said a majority of the University of Minnesota’s turf grass research is completed on farms in Roseau County in northwest Minnesota.