Innovations in turf tackle water issues

John Keleher, Australian Lawn Concepts, Boyland, Queensland

 

John Keleher was working as an agriculture consultant in central Queensland when he saw a turf farming business for sale on the Gold Coast.

With a young family, keen to be closer to the action, the Kelehers jumped at the opportunity.

“I had no experience with it but I thought, well I can grow most things – I wasn’t aware of how hard growing grass could be!”

John said the turf industry was small, with a lot of potential, as well as the capacity to impact sale price and learn something new every day.

As managing director of Australian Lawn Concepts, John has certainly put this philosophy into practise, with a passion for all things innovation.

“Research provides me with new and exciting information which I can implement or assess to see how it is going to better my business.”

Most recently, the farm hosted a field day to examine better ways of using natural resources, predominantly water.

The business recently installed a variable rate irrigation system with support from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. It was the first time the new system had been applied to turf in Australia.

“Water is a limited commodity in our part of the world. The purpose of this system is to help us manage our irrigation application on a 10-square-metre basis. We sell and harvest based on square metre units but we couldn’t streamline our irrigation management down to a smaller area because we had no way of doing it with our watering system.”

John said he was also looking at other ways to save water, like utilising the natural cracking of the soil by drying out areas after harvest and reducing field compaction.

John said marketing was extremely important in helping the wider community understand the turf industry and these environmental innovations.

“In my opinion some people see green spaces as energy consumers, whether it be through fertilizers, water, mowing or time, but as an industry we’re developing new varieties and techniques to manage that. We’re keeping in step with consumer demand but also delivering a beneficial outcome, whether it be a green aesthetic view, a play area, community field or even an erosion control system. Turf marketing is therefore extremely important to me going forward.”

With more than 150 hectares under turf, Australian Lawn Concepts is one of the biggest suppliers in the industry. The company sells about 2,000,000 square metres of turf each year, mainly in the south-east Queensland area.

“We service councils, parks, green spaces and sporting fields but our real skill is servicing the retail industry, whether it be landscapers, builders or mums and dads.”

Growing in size means that the team needed to come up with more efficient ways of managing spraying, fertilising and watering.

“We can’t develop yield maps like they do on broad acre but I’m thinking about developing a waste map, so we can identify bad areas of our paddocks.”

 

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