Neil heads up the Turf Solutions team as Head of Sales for Turf and Amenity and he’s confident that Bayer now has more industry knowledge than ever, with a team that’s equipped to offer informed expertise, when the industry is experiencing such vast changes.
“Products that have been crucial to the armoury against pests and diseases are being removed from the market at an alarming rate. Chlorpyrifos will be off the market, as far as the turf sector is concerned, from 31st August, Merit® Turf has also been withdrawn (although we are working hard to gain a re-approval), and product application rates are changing.
“This new team of professionals is designed to help understand these issues, communicate them to the industry and find workable solutions.
“At Bayer we have a fantastic staff resource working behind the scenes, from our regulatory affairs team to the R&D scientists working on new product development. The Turf Solutions team is the final piece of the jigsaw. We have the expertise to deliver information on a practical level and the knowledge to advise on how this fits in with integrated pest and disease management. It is also important that we work closely with our distributor partners to be able to share the same knowledge,” he says.
Neil’s current role at Bayer is to support distributors and end-users on all aspects of best practice management. “I have experience of working on the ground, and a technical understanding of the issues greenkeepers and groundsmen face. I also understand the industry changes from a regulatory perspective,” he says.
Neil’s background has always been firmly rooted in the turf and amenity sector. His first job was at a local golf course in his home city of Norwich, at which time he also began his industry education gaining an NVQ Level 2 in horticulture. He soon realised he had a real passion for the sports turf sector, and went on to specialise, gaining a national diploma with distinction in turf science at Myerscough College. During that time, his determination to work at the largest stadium in the UK manifested itself in a placement year at Wembley, as assistant groundsman, in 1999.
His career stepped up a gear when he worked at the Forest of Arden golf course near Birmingham, prior to the course hosting the English Open. But it wasn’t until he accepted the offer of a post in Tobago that he was to be really tested.
“My role was to oversee the final stages of the construction and grow-in of a PGA tournament standard, 27-hole golf course alongside an expat team of five, overseeing around 80 staff.
“It was a huge project. There is no sand on the island, so we had to ship it in on a barge from Guyana, and we had lorries running it from the barge to the course for four days and nights,” he says.
To establish new areas of warm season grass a process called sprigging is used. “You do a vertical cut, removing the lateral growth of the established grass which contains stolons and replant these into a new location. To complete the fairway/rough of one hole can take a considerable amount of time,” says Neil.
“We finished work one Saturday morning, left the site, and returned on Monday morning to find that a recently sprigged grass area had been entirely eaten by Army Grubs (Spodoptera Mauritia). These are a bit like Chafer Grubs (Phyllopertha horticola), but live on top of the soil, in the grass. We had to complete the whole job again - and we had wasted a week’s labour, and material – lesson learned,” he says.
“This was my first experience of the catastrophic damage pests can do. And the biggest lesson I learned from it was the importance of monitoring, and looking for subtle changes in the grass.
“Knowing your golf greens and turf is so important. Noticing what’s natural, what’s seasonal, and identifying what’s a concern can only be identified if you know your surface, and this really should be being monitored daily.
“If you notice changes, there’s always a reason for them. Document them, take photos, and when you come across the same things years later, you can look back and see what the weather conditions were and what the nutrient programme was,” says Neil.
Neil hasn’t experienced anything as bad as the Army Grubs devastation in Tobago, since it happened. Following a few more years working in golf course construction both overseas and in the UK, Neil returned permanently to the UK in 2004 to complete a master’s degree in sports turf technology at Cranfield University. Overlapping at the same time while completing his thesis Neil site managed the construction of twelve natural football pitches, a 3G synthetic pitch and MUGA’s in Shrewsbury in 2005/06.
Neil joined Barenbrug in 2006, a specialist grass seed company adding to his expertise in different turf species and cultivars, how they react in different conditions, and how they should be treated to maximise performance. “This is an important area of understanding how different practices can influence Integrated Turf Management, cultivar selection is very important in managing disease tolerance.”
Since moving to Bayer in 2014, Neil is confident that the new Turf Solutions team will continue to problem solve and engage closely with greenkeepers and groundsmen, but they are also innovating for the benefit of the industry.
“Synthetic chemistry has an important place as long as it’s used responsibly. And we’re always investing in research and development to try to safeguard solutions for the future, as well as advising on preventative measures, as a part of an integrated pest and disease management strategy.
“Sharing this knowledge is important, we’re not precious about it, in fact, its key to what we do,” he adds.
By keeping in contact with the turf solutions team at Bayer professionals can keep up to date with general best practice management advice, and on new initiatives.