The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Turfgrass Federation (NTF) recently signed an agreement to launch a long-term research program aimed at improving the nation's turfgrass. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

New research will be done as part of a national turfgrass initiative, a cooperative effort between the turfgrass industry, universities and ARS. “This is the first attempt to provide the type of long-term research that has been key to the success of all other major crops,” said ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling.

The initiative will involve ARS scientists across the nation, according to Knipling.

Turfgrass is a major agricultural crop that covers 50 million acres nationally — almost as many acres as wheat — and supports a $40 billion-a-year business. In Maryland alone, it is the No. 1 crop, bringing in $1 billion a year.

Knipling noted that turfgrass is the only crop industry that increases with urban development. “Homeowners' lawns account for about 30 million acres of the crop each year,” he said. “Turfgrass touches the lives of all Americans, covering additional millions of acres on school grounds, municipal parks and athletic fields.”

USDA has had a long association with turfgrass research. The U.S. Golf Association funded work at the USDA research farm when it was on the pre-Pentagon site in Arlington, Va., in 1920. The association continued working with USDA when the research center swapped the current Pentagon site for federal land in Beltsville, Md., in the 1940s. Today, ARS has a national turfgrass program with a dozen ARS locations doing turfgrass research across the country, from Maryland to California.

According to Kevin Morris, with the NTF in Beltsville, the NTF also works with university researchers to evaluate turfgrass in 40 states. The new initiative will support research in six priority areas identified by the industry as their top research needs: improvement of water management, germplasm collection and enhancement, pest management, improving turfgrass' role in the environment, soil enhancement and integrated turf management systems.

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