Thursday, 18 December 2014

EIQ Tracking, My First Year.

Putting down an application of phosphite and primo in mid December 2014 before it gets dark!
It has now been almost an entire year since I started tracking my pesticide use in a meaningful way. Last year I discussed different ways we can measure our pesticide use on the golf course and discussed how the cost and EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) were the only real metrics that mattered. You can read all about this in my post:

Sustainable Pesticide Use: Tracking Pesticide Cost and Environmental Impact
By mid year 2014 I was seeing a lot of success with my tracking and goal setting. I claimed that I was ahead of my goals for pesticide cost and just about right on track with my EIQ goals. Now that the year has come to an end I can look back and see how I did. Did I achieve my goals? The answer is yes and no.

Here are the numbers:
Sustainability MetricYTD Total CostGoalPercent of Goal Used
Cost Fusarium$4,401.56$5,000.0088.03%
Cost Dollar Spot$312.17$400.0078.04%
Total Cost$4,713.73$5,400.0087.29%
Fusarium EIQ975.38775.00125.86%
Dollar Spot EIQ22.0125.0088.06%
Total EIQ997.40800.00124.67%

Yes I was able to exceed my goal for cost. I had budgeted $5,400.00 for pesticides on my course in 2014 but only ended up spending $4,713.73. This amounts to about 13% under budget for pesticides this year.
No I wasn't able to meet my goal for EIQ. I had budgeted for an EIQ of 800 but ended up using an EIQ of 997 which is about 25% over budget! To put these EIQ numbers into perspective, a single application of Daconil 2787 (chlorothalonil) at the high label rate has an EIQ of 620! My total EIQ is equal to about 3 low rate applications of Daconil 2787.

For me, this process of tracking my pesticide use was eye opening. In the Spring it was quite easy for me to stay on track. As the grass started to grow I could use less effective products to get adequate control. In the Summer I had little difficulty but in the Fall I was forced to bring in the big guns to get control of a runaway disease outbreak on a few of my greens.

This summer I decided to try not using Civitas and learned a lot. I learned how big of an impact it had on dollar spot. For the first time in 3 years I had to use a traditional pesticide to treat for dollar spot on my greens. I'm still on the fence whether or not it's worth it to use this product next year. The EIQ is rather high even though it's "organic" and I have seen issues with applying it to stressed turf in the summer. For me, my turf is always stressed in the summer! I also HATE the colour, it hides the real condition of the turf from my most valuable stress indicator, my eyes. I can see using it a few times of the year when disease control is particularly difficult to achieve.

I used phosphite all year on my greens. This product accounted for about $700 of my fungicide budget or about 15%. It also accounted for an EIQ of about 372 or 37%! Because this product needs to be almost continuously applied the EIQ begins to add up. More analysis of the actual benefits and effects of this product on my pesticide use will need to be done to see if this EIQ is worth the benefit it brings to my disease management program. If I removed phosphite from my disease management plan would I need significantly more traditional pesticides? That's a topic for another post.

Iron. I did not apply much iron this year despite recent research showing that it can reduce or eliminate fusarium on poa annua putting greens. Aside from some of the issues caused by excessive iron use namely, cemented layers, I was hesitant to apply it in significant quantities this year. Furthermore, the rates of iron sulfate that showed adequate control (97.65Kg iron sulphate/Ha every 2 weeks) had an EIQ of about 570! An EIQ of 570 every 2 weeks is 1140 per month or 11400 per season to control fusarium! Even though this is considered a "safe" alternative to traditional pesticide use I don't think that the EIQ is worth it. I'm just a simple man, and don't entirely understand how EIQ is calculated but I trust that the scientists at Cornell who made it know what they are doing and that the EIQ reflects the actual impact of a product on the environment. Iron is out as a big part of my disease management program.

The fall has always been a challenging time to fight disease. The turf growth slows and any damage done will recover slowly if at all. The deteriorating conditions are reason to be extra vigilant in the control of turf disease. Things were made particularly worse as I was caught off guard by the early birth of my son right when the fusarium started to explode. When I was able to get back to the course it was pretty bad and an application of chlorothalonil was the only thing that would do in my experience. My total course EIQ up to the 23rd of September was only 450. In the span of a few short months my EIQ doubled!

Lesson learned!

The real beauty of tracking what you are doing in a meaningful way is that it affords you a chance to learn. So what did I learn?

I have always been a reactive user of pesticides. I would always wait until a certain disease threshold would be reached before applying a pesticide. For the most part this has always worked out for me. It was especially useful when I wasn't tracking my pesticide in a meaningful way. I used to use the number of applications and costs as a gauge of how I was doing.

The right side of the 1st green loves the fusarium!

I still stand behind my principles of not applying a pesticide preventatively and I still like to hold off if I can. After all, why apply something if it's not needed? What I have learned through my detailed disease monitoring and pesticide application records is that there is a time (early September for me) when a preventative application of a product with a low EIQ could save me the need to apply a product with a high EIQ at a later date. I can go even further and say that this preventative application would only need to be done on a few of my problem greens. My shady greens are the ones that always cause issues and on some of my better greens the disease outbreak is only located in isolated areas. With my detailed records and vast experience with my property I can now make this preventative application only to areas that have been shown to need it. Doing this would slightly increase the cost of my pesticide use but I have some room to spare in this category.

I had no clue that changing the way I monitor pesticide use would have such a big impact on my management practices and my views about fighting turf disease. With a combination of reactive, and preventative disease management I can now try and further reduce my EIQ and costs of products used to fight turf disease. Next year I am going to keep my pesticide use goals the same as I feel they are still realistic targets to aim for. If you aren't already, I highly suggest that you start tracking the EIQ of the products you use, it will help you get a better understanding of what you are really doing and make a real difference to your bottom line and environmental impact. After all, these are the only real things that matter.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Digital Job Board, The Key to My Success in 2014

We all know that maintaining a golf course requires a lot of labor, and the cost of this labor makes up a big portion of our budgets. Last year I was coming off a very difficult year labor-wise and was facing further budget restrictions. In order to meet my budget restrictions it was obvious that I needed to do something to maximize my labor efficiency. I needed to do more with less. Following a detailed analysis it became obvious that we had a lot of room for improvement. There is nothing better than having a lot of room for improvement when working to reduce a budget.

I needed a plan. I started out by setting a few goals to guide me;

  • Staff do majority of mowing before golfers teed off
  • No overtime
  • All essential jobs covered during regular hours by my staff, not me.
  • Reduce the extra hours for me...I needed to balance my work/family life
  • Reduce or maintain current labor budget.
  • I was not scheduled for any regular maintenance practices, as I am the mechanic, irrigation tech, and everything else. I needed to be flexible.
As you can see, the above list had some tough requirements, and as far as I was concerned, they were not optional.

I laid out all the regular tasks that were required for normal maintenance and assigned the amount of time required to do each job under ideal circumstances.

This allowed me to assign my labor force to cover the amount of work required. This is where I came up with the idea to use 2 part-time staff instead of 1 full time staff. This allowed me to get more done quickly in the early morning hours before golfers started play. I increased my available labor during the time when they were most efficient.

Having a plan is only half the battle, though. Implementing this plan is the other half and just as important as the plan. I needed to cast a critical eye on how I assigned tasks in the past, and come up with solutions to make my planning more effective. With better planning and communication I could maximize my labor force efficiency.

In the past I would assign tasks in person each morning, going off the top of my head with maybe a day or two planned ahead of time. This obviously wasn't ideal! On my days off (the few that I actually had) I would write the daily tasks on a piece of paper and pin it to the shop door!

I decided to not reinvent the wheel. What were the guys at high end clubs doing? How did they manage their large labor forces efficiently? The guys at TPC Sawgrass had posted about their digital job board so I decided to see how they did it and what others were doing.

I asked twitter for feedback and got a lot of really good examples. It appeared that the majority of people were using spreadsheets put up on a tv in the lunchroom to lay out the assigned jobs for the day. The beauty of this system is that most shops already have the components to put this together, and even if you didn't, the components were relatively cheap.

Like everything I do, I decided to plan my digital job board system with a series of requirements that would help it meet my needs.
  • It had to be simple to use and to read, if it's not easy you won't use it.
  • Easily accessed by staff
  • Ability for me to plan 2 weeks in advanced with automatic updates
  • Ability for me to update it from home, or in the field from my phone.
  • Ability to show up to 3 tasks per day per staff member and other relevant info.
  • Show other relevant information as it relates to maintenance activities

As I was already a power user of Google's cloud service, Google Drive, I decided that this would be the perfect tool for me to implement my job board. For those who don't know, Google Drive is a cloud based storage service that has the ability to create documents, slideshows, and spreadsheets, all in your internet browser and for free!
Early planning stages of my spreadsheet, I like to draw it out
It didn't take me long to put a rough job board together. You can see my current job board here and feel free to copy is for yourself. As you can see there isn't much happening here at the moment as it's just me this time of year and I'm just fixing mowers and writing blog posts.

Early view of my job board
One thing I noticed about all the other job boards people had shared with me was that they all needed to be updated each day. I didn't have time for this especially on my days off. I needed the ability to update it ahead of time. I built a planner that would allow me to assign tasks up to 2 weeks in advance. This worked great as my scheduled maintenance plan followed a 2 week cycle. The main job board would update each day with the tasks I had assigned for that day on the planner sheet. This sheet would be where I would add data that I wanted to show up on my spreadsheet. The main job board sheet would just be a user friendly way of displaying this info.

Planner sheet.
I also wanted it to be easily visible. I noticed a lot of the job boards shared with me had many staff on each page. I wanted my staff to be able to read it from across the shop even on a small 32-Inch LED TV . For this reason I put 5 staff on each job board page. I could then create more pages if I had more staff (luckily for me I only have 4 staff plus myself). If you have a bigger staff you can make more "job board" pages and then just rotate through the tabs with a chrome extension such as revolver. I also put a weather page in the rotation so the staff can see what to expect. This feature also saves your tv from damage caused from burn in.
Job board rotates through different screens to save my screen


My next challenge was to have a good way to show this job board to my staff. I only had an old computer in my office and I didn't want my staff using my office or computer. I also had virtually no budget. I needed a simple and cost effective way to put this all together. What I decided to use was a chormebox paired with a32-Inch LED TV
asus chromebox

An ASUS CHROMEBOX is a small cloud computer. I runs on the chrome operating system and relies completely on internet access. The best part was the amazing performance, size and price (~$220). It also has the ability to run 2 screens! I created a staff login and could share the job board with them. That way they could log into the computer and see everything that I wanted them to see.

I bought the cheapest screen I could (32" tv) and mounted it on my work bench. Another way to easily get the data from your computer to your tv would be a Google Chromecast dongle (~$35). This way you could use your current computer to send the job board to a tv without running expensive wires.

Putting It All Together

Now that I had the software and hardware put together the next issue would be actually using it. The hardest part was getting staff trained to look at the board in the morning and periodically during the day. It is not uncommon for me to make changes as I do my morning rounds each day. I make these changes on my phone through the Google sheets app.

Having the ability to finally plan out ahead of time really helped me maximize my available labor force. I could ensure that all required tasks would be completed. Furthermore, I didn't have to chase down staff to assign changes to their schedules. They also didn't have to chase me down if they needed further instructions.

On my days off I could check the weather at 4am, then update the day's activities for my staff to reflect the actual conditions, all without leaving my bed!

I added features that would indicate shift start times, and any tournaments and special considerations. Furthermore they would be able to see what was happening on the course a day in advance from the main job board page. 

Before long I found that my staff would be checking on their tasks and course events for the following day before leaving work. Often they would come in early all on their own to get the jobs done before golfers showed up.

The real proof of success was that I used my labor more efficiently than ever before and did it under budget for labor! Even better, I actually had a few days off this summer! The odd day where I had to leave the course unexpectedly, I could rest assured that my staff had the direction needed to get everything done. I even managed their tasks while I was on holidays in June! When my son was born 2 weeks early in mid September I could change our plans from aerating greens to regular maintenance duties from the hospital! 

For some (especially smaller operations) the cost of this system might make it unrealistic but consider this. My ROI for this system was the first 2 weeks I had it in operation. The amount of work that was being done, and the efficiency of that work, was amazing! Knowing ahead of time what needed to be done really helped my staff manage their time wisely. I was able to meet all of my labor efficiency goals for 2014 and came in under budget for labor!

If anyone likes my job board and wants to implement something similar for their club, feel free to send me an email. I would love to help anyone set this up to match their operation and staffing levels.

For an example job board that you can copy and edit for youself, check out the following link.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Equipment Use and Labor Efficiency 2014

For the past few years I have been keeping very detailed records of most parts of my operation. The reason for these records are to analyze what we have done, and come up with solutions for improvement.

Currently I have employees fill out a Google form after each time they operate a mower on the course. I collect the following data:

  • operator name
  • equipment name
  • area of course
  • which holes?
  • hour meter reading
  • amount of grass collected when cutting greens
This gives me a ton of info that I can analyze to really see what is happening out there on my course. I can even compare employees to each other to see who is more efficient at each job. This combined with each person's wage gives me a very good idea of what the actual cost of each mowing task really is. Even though I am the most efficient operator at my course, my higher salary make it much more expensive to the club for me to operate a mower.

Equipment Use Efficiency

One of the biggest costs for golf course maintenance is mowing the grass. Ideally we want to mow the golf course as little as possible to achieve the desired turf quality and we also want our mowers to cut the grass as quickly as possible. Cutting grass quickly doesn't necessarily mean running the mowers at a faster speed, it means operating the mowers in a way that is more efficient.

The following chart illustrates the amount of time spent mowing and rolling greens over the past 3 years:
Chart 1
The following chart illustrates the total amount of times each process took place.
Chart 2
Now you're probably wondering why did we roll so little in 2013? The reason for this was staff levels. We were short staffed and had an inefficient staffing schedule and were not able to roll as often as we would have liked. With the data collected last year it was obvious that I had to make changes in order to achieve my goals of rolling daily and mowing every other day.
Chart 3
By combining the data from the first 2 charts I can get an idea of the efficiency of each operation for each year. Now the issues with 2013 become clearer. We were incredibly inefficient in our operations.

So why were we so inefficient in 2013 and how did I increase this efficiency in 2014?

In 2013 I had a staff of 3 all working full time shifts. Because we didn't have the staff numbers to do all the required daily task starting from the beginning of our shifts, we were often forced to work on the greens when there were golfers on the course. Working on the greens with golfers present drastically increases the time it takes to do the job and I had an inexperienced staff. It also takes away from the golfer experience.

With this collected data I was able to identify the problem and come up with a plan to make it better. If I was able to increase my staff by 1 person I would be able to become more efficient with my daily tasks. The only problem was that I didn't have the budget for any additional staff!

What I decided to do was hire 2 part time employees instead of 1 full-time employee. This would give me an extra body in the early mornings when most of the mowing took place. We would be able to get all the tasks on the greens done quickly and would not have any golfer interference. This also freed up my one full time employee to start mowing fairways and rough early in the am further reducing golfer/mower interactions. I was also lucky to get back an experienced employee that had taken 2012 off.

With this small change I was able to keep my labor budget the same, and get a lot more done! The following chart illustrates that even though I put less time into the course this year I was still able to get everything accomplished with the highest efficiency ever achieved on this course!
Chart 4
I can do the above comparison for every aspect of the operation. Chart 5 below shows the efficiency of my mowers over the past 3 years.
Chart 5
As you can see, I was able to get the most efficient operations on greens and tees ever. For fairways and rough I was able to drastically improve on the efficiency of 2012 but it still wasn't my best effort yet. I think the reason for this is that the new fairway mower is slightly slower and we had to further reduce the speed of it due to the fact that its reels are not as durable as the mower we had in 2012. We were still able to increase our efficiency simply by mowing when golfers were not on the course. Rough took a bit longer than in 2012 because we are now mowing more rough than we used to. I decided that with the increased efficiency I would cut the rough more frequently to increase the quality of the course.

This is just a small portion of what this data can help you do to refine your operations. Without the data all you can do is guess.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Fertilizer Use 2014

It has been a while since my last post. In my defense I have been a bit busy. In September my wife and I welcomed our second son, Avery, into the world. I was also busy working towards my search and rescue Rope Team Leader certification. This involved years of training and a test that lasted 20 hours!

It's that time of the year where things are slow and I begin to look back at my records, reflect, and make changes to better my operation for the next season.

The first thing I have looked at is my fertilizer records. I have made great strides to reduce the amount of fertilizer applied, the cost of the fertilizer and the time taken to apply this fertilizer. Last year I started using the MLSN guidelines and was amazed with the huge impact this made. This year the impact was less dramatic but I still saw reductions in almost all categories.

For those that don't know. We have 0.4ha of poa greens, 0.3 ha of bent/rye tees and 4.5ha of rye/bluegrass fw.

Here is the raw data:
Total Product (Kg)
Total Product678863195629308523822301
Total Cost200920102011201220132014
Total Costs$12,389.00$10,811.00$9,360.00$4,433.00$2,539.00$2,276.00
Total Time200920102011201220132014
Total Time8275.59117381.585

The total mass of fertilizer applied this year remained almost exactly the same. I applied almost half the product on the greens but saw a slight increase in fairway fertilizer as I tried to battle dollar spot this summer. The tees also saw a reduction of almost half year over year.
Costs were also down slightly with trends similar to the amounts of fertilizer applied to each respective area of the course.
 Labor was up just slightly as I made a few extra fertilizer applications on the fairways this summer.

Total nutrient amounts applied are as follows:


Now none of this matters without results.

I don't plan on making too many additional changes for next year. I plan to do more soil tests this coming spring and will adjust to stay just above the MLSN guidelines.