By Mike Jiggens
A cool piece of GPS technology is keeping sports fields healthy and safe for a central Ontario school board.
A bit like a satellite on the ground, a machine mounted on a riding lawn mower measures the quality of the grass surface on the playing field. The information it gathers tells the landscape management company where to put its resources to improve the health of the turf, and fewer weeds, bare patches, and uneven surfaces means improved safety for players, especially important during the fall football season.
Pat Hester owns the Barrie, Ont. franchise of Clintar Landscape Management. He says the Trimble® GreenSeeker® sensing system is often used by farmers, but rarely used to improve sports fields.
“It’s technology that has been used for years in agriculture,” he says. “I saw how we could use it to stay on top of the fields we manage for the Simcoe County School Board. It tells us things we can’t see with the naked eye.”
Green plants reflect light differently than those that are unhealthy, not growing, or dead. The system’s head unit shoots a beam of light from the front of the mower, takes a reading, and stores information about the field. Back at the shop, the operator downloads the information into the program, which plots the readings on a satellite image. From there, it’s easy to see if the field is stressed in any areas.
Hester says he can clearly see which fields are doing well and which are not.
“It’s a critical heads up that allows us to tailor the care of that field,” he says. “I know I have to do something to get that grass growing properly, whether it’s fertilize, or treat for pests, or adjust the irrigation schedule.”
Clintar looks after 18 heavily used high school sports fields for the Simcoe County School Board, from Penetang to Collingwood to Barrie. It’s a large geographic area, with varying soil conditions, elevations, and climate, and Hester’s team can’t be in 18 places at once.
“We print maps from the system to tell us where our special services are most needed,” he says. “This lets us focus on the areas that most need attention, so we travel less, use less fertilizer, and better manage water use. It’s hard to measure the savings in time, but I can tell you that we’re conserving materials. I don’t want to waste nitrogen fertilizer on perfect turf that can’t use it.”
GreenSeeker readings give Hester quick results so that he can make decisions right away. He can compare readings within a single field, or among fields, or year to year. And the system works on the ground, without having to access a satellite, so he can use it when it’s cloudy.
His efforts are appreciated by Rick Mutuchky, Central Operations Supervisor for the Simcoe County District School Board. “When Clintar started using the GreenSeeker, we found the results very revealing,” Mutuchky says. “We learned a lot about the condition of our fields and were able to put together a proper maintenance plan. The technology is very impressive.”
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013, Clintar provides year-round care for property management companies, corporations, hospitals, large retailers, school boards, and homeowner associations. Services include landscape design and construction, landscape maintenance, irrigation systems, litter pick-up, parking lot cleaning, line-painting, and snow and ice control.