PACE Turf - Turfgrass Information Center

Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf

Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf


Are you interested in finding out how you can reduce fertilizer inputs without sacrificing turf health and playability?

Would you like to have an easy–to–use tool to quantify your progress in achieving sustainability?

Would you like to join with other turf managers around the globe to help the turf industry become more sustainable?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you are invited to participate in The Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf, a citizen science style initiative whose goal is to develop new, more sustainable soil nutritional guidelines that are based on maintaining turf quality with reduced inputs, reduced costs and reduced environmental impact.

Review the 2014 GSS Annual Report to see how data from your participation in the program will be used.

Read more below (this information is also available in a printable format for circulation to co–workers, managers and colleagues).

Note: The Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf is no longer accepting soil test kits. This page has been maintained for historical purposes and in case the survey opens at a later date.


Mission and Goals

The mission of the Global Soil Survey is to enlist turf managers from around the globe in the development and implementation of practical and effective sustainability practices. This will be accomplished through:

  1. production of new, sustainable soil nutritional guidelines that target the lowest nutrient levels needed to support the desired levels of turf quality and playability
  2. generating the new guidelines through analysis of soil samples collected by survey participants from around the globe
  3. providing participants with individualized reports on soil nutritional conditions at their location, as well as quantification of their sustainability index
  4. promoting adoption of the new sustainability guidelines through social media, websites, articles, scientific presentations and educational seminars
  5. insuring reliable data by utilizing a single, highly reputable laboratory for all analyses

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Why the Global Soil Survey matters

Does the turf industry really need a a new approach to soil nutrition? We believe that the answer is a resounding "yes".

There are currently many versions of turf soil nutrition guidelines available, and most have provided a good foundation for high quality turf. But in these days of decreased spending and increased concern for environmental impacts, turf managers are faced with demands to not only deliver high quality turf, but to do so with lower costs and fewer inputs.

To respond to these changing expectations, we began several years ago to take a different approach to the development of soil guidelines. For while there were many good soil nutritional guidelines available that were the basis for good quality turf, there were none available that identified the minimum levels of nutrients needed to achieve that goal. As a result, there was a lot of good quality turf out there that is probably being over–fertilized, at great and unnecessary cost — both economic and environmental.

The result of our efforts was a new set of soil nutritional guidelines, the "Minimum Levels for Sustainable Nutrition Guidelines" (MLSN), which were introduced in 2012 (for details on how the MLSN guidelines were developed, read here). Since that time, the guidelines been adopted by turf managers around the world, many of whom have been pleasantly surprised at how low they could go in terms of soil nutrition without sacrificing turf quality or playability.

Based on a large database of over 17,000 soil samples, the MLSN guidelines have performed well for many different climates, turf types and customer expectations. But we want to go even further with The Global Soil Survey. Designed to collect soil samples from good performing turf from locations all around the world, to analyze their nutritional chemistry, and then to use the data to refine and strengthen the existing MLSN guidelines, The Global Soil Survey is also an opportunity for turf managers to participate in developing and implementing new sustainability practices for their industry. This citizen science style project will not only help each individual facility to reduce inputs, but will benefit the turf industry overall, by providing guidance to turf managers everywhere on clear and concrete steps they can take towards more sustainable practices.

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Benefits to your facility

  1. Knowledge: An individualized report that assesses current soil nutritional conditions at each of the three sampling areas from your location will be emailed to you in a printable format. All soils will be analyzed for 21 chemical measurements, including major and minor nutrients, pH and electrical conductivity by Brookside Laboratories (New Bremen, OH) and the data evaluated by Dr. Micah Woods of The Asian Turfgrass Center and Dr. Larry Stowell of PACE Turf . All data will be presented using both metric and U.S. units.
  2. Recommendations: The report will also quantify any nutrient deficits or excesses, and will provide recommendations on how to correct them.
  3. Documenting progress towards sustainability: The report will also calculate a sustainability index for each major nutrient at each of the three sampling sites. This numerical rating will document how close each soil nutrient is to the minimum identified in the MLSN guidelines, and how much lower that level can go before it reaches the minimum threshold. The sustainability index provides a great snapshot of the current condition of the soil, in terms of meeting minimal guidelines. But even more importantly, it sets a clearly defined benchmark against which you can track and quantify your progress towards sustainability over time.
  4. Tools for doing the right thing: While everyone wants their facility to reduce inputs, be more environmentally sensitive and generally more sustainable, it's not always clear how to approach these goals in a safe and responsible manner. Your personalized report will provide clear, science–based and data–based guidance on deficits, excesses and fertilizer requirements that will allow you to sensibly reduce inputs, without sacrificing turf quality or playability.
  5. Leadership and recognition: You and your facility can feel good about taking steps to be more responsible environmental stewards and more cost effective managers. And you should feel even better about the leadership you have shown in contributing your data to the MLSN database so that the guidelines can be further refined and strengthened. The results of your efforts will benefit turf managers throughout the industry, as well as your own facility.
  6. The rewards of being a citizen scientist: It will be both rewarding and fun to join with your colleagues from around the globe, and jointly contribute to the common goal of increased sustainability through good science! Camaraderie, a sense of purpose and fun have been hallmarks of other citizen science projects, and we hope to duplicate the same spirit in the Global Soil Survey.

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Benefits to the turf industry

  • Being proactive in reducing inputs and increasing progress towards sustainability
  • Taking leadership in environmental stewardship
  • Promoting sharing and cooperation in a participatory project where all results will be shared with the industry at large

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How much does it cost?

For a fee of $250.00 (U.S.), each participant in The Global Soil Survey will receive:

  • All instructions and materials needed to package and ship three soil samples to Brookside Laboratories, New Bremen, OH.
  • A personalized report, containing an analysis of current soil nutritional conditions at your facility, as well as guidelines for increased sustainability, as described here
  • Recognition of your facility's role in the development of sustainable turf management practices on The Global Soil Survey website and publications

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How it works

  1. Sign up and pay $250.00 (U.S.) fee
  2. A Global Soil Survey Kit will be shipped to you. The kit includes:
    • Sampling and shipping instructions
    • 3 soil sample bags, sample submission form and sharpie and ball point pen
    • Box for shipment of soil samples to Brookside Laboratories. Shipping costs will be pre–paid for U.S. participants only.
  3. A personalized report will be prepared based on the chemical analysis of the three soil samples collected from your location, and emailed to you. For more information on the contents of your report, read here.
  4. Your data will be pooled with that of other survey participants to generate new and improved soil nutritional guidelines for turf. These guidelines will be made available to the public on The Global Soil Survey website, and will be promoted in educational seminars, articles and scientific presentations.
  5. Your facility will be publicly recognized (unless otherwise requested) for their participation on the The Global Soil Survey website

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How long will The Global Soil Survey last?

We see no end in sight for The Global Soil Survey, nor for the benefits that can be reaped from the accumulation of more and more data from more and more locations. The Minimum Levels for Sustainable Nutrition (MLSN) guidelines will be continuously improved as additional information is added to the database. Based on the information received, we will periodically update and improve the MLSN guidelines. All progress on the development of the guidelines will be posted on The Global Soil Survey website. You will also be notified as new guidelines become available.

We hope that current participants will consider regular participation in The Global Soil Survey — most turf managers like to monitor conditions and progress towards sustainability at least twice a year.

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Who we are

The Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf is being overseen by turf scientists Dr. Micah Woods (Asian Turfgrass Center) and Drs. Larry Stowell and Wendy Gelernter (PACE Turf). As independent consultants who have been providing science–based, unbiased information and guidance to turf managers for a combined total of over 70 years, Stowell, Woods and Gelernter are recognized worldwide for their practical approaches to the complex issue of implementing low input, sustainable practices that still support high quality turf.

Click on the appropriate links for more information on Dr. Woods' credentials, Dr. Stowell's credentials and Dr. Gelernter's credentials.

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Please feel free to contact either Dr. Woods at the Asian Turfgrass Center, or Drs. Gelernter and Stowell at PACE Turf with any questions you may have.

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Background information on Minimum Levels for Sustainable Nutrition (MLSN) Guidelines

Increased economic and environmental pressures have caused many of you to re–assess the way you manage turf. With fertilizers as one of the bigger inputs, we felt that it was time to review and revise the current approach to soil nutrition, which emphasizes the goal of optimal turf health, but does not identify the minimum nutritional levels needed to achieve that goal.

Starting in 2012, we reviewed data on all key soil nutrients from over 17,000 turf soil samples, and determined that in many cases, guidelines could be safely lowered without a dramatic impact on turf quality or playability.

The result of our efforts was the "Minimum Level for Sustainable Nutrition" (MLSN) soil guidelines a more sustainable approach to managing soil nutrient levels that can help you to decrease inputs and costs, while still maintaining desired turf quality and playability levels.

Additional information can be found here:

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Global Soil Survey Update: September, 2014

Please click here for a report that summarizes the data from the first year of the Global Soil Survey.

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Printable version of this document

Please click here for a printable version of this document.

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