NTEP rolls out a new user-friendly interface

A perennial ryegrass test plot at the Rocky Ford Turfgrass Research Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Photo by Andrew Hartsock

Earlier this year, Chad Allen tweeted a photo that should be as relevant as it is recognizable to any turf professional who has ever dived into the depths of the National Turf Assessment Program data pool in search of the turf cultivar. perfect.

Allen’s Twitter board — taken deep in golf’s offseason in Westfield, Indiana, where Allen is superintendent at the Chatham Hills Club — featured an open laptop, a screaming yellow highlighter and a small stack of printed data charts .

“You really have to know what you’re looking for,” says Allen, a GCSAA member of four years and @BentgrassWizard on Twitter. “I was looking at the NTEP data. The owner is looking to build a couple of golf courses over the next few years, so I was looking at bentgrass results. It was organized chaos, what I was trying to do – come and go all the time. If you want to look at genetic color, or how it’s going with the dollar spot, you’re always going back and forth, creating your own spreadsheets, trying to simplify what I wanted to achieve. Like I said, it was organized chaos.

If only he had waited a few months.

NTEP quietly released its version 1.0 of Turfgrass Trial Explorer earlier this month and with it the promise of a smoother, smoother NTEP experience.

“There’s just a lot out there,” says Corey Barnes, Class A GSCAA superintendent at Chambersburg Country Club in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and an association member for 12 years who admits to doing a lot more work on data gloom from NTEP during his time at Horry-Georgetown Technical College than in the years that followed. “There’s a lot of good stuff there, but I remember my classmates didn’t really understand everything.”

“It’s a godsend”

Few could blame them.

As any turfgrass professional worth their salt probably knows, the NTEP – a cooperative effort of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program Inc. and the USDA – has for 40 years developed, coordinated and compiled data from uniforms of 17 turf varieties. and “promising selections” in the United States and Canada. Trials were conducted in 40 states and six Canadian provinces, evaluating criteria such as turf tolerance to drought, heat, cold and traffic; color, quality and density; and insect and disease resistance.

NTEP’s Turfgrass Trial Explorer features a customizable, user-friendly interface that makes it easy to compare turfs to the NTEP website approach. Below are density results for three trial seasons for bentgrass (greens) from 2015 to 2019 in Georgia. The sortable by click table below shows the best results shaded in green.

CCIV Fertilizer Pellets

For the end user, be it a home handyman, plant breeder, researcher or golf course manager, this is an enormous amount of Information and, until recently, the user-accessible interface was, to say the least, unwieldy.

“I spent hours going through it the old-fashioned way, printing it all out, comparing it,” Allen says of his in-depth analysis of the January data. “This (new interface) would have saved my business a ton of money on printing alone. It’s a godsend.

As Allen mentioned, traditionally browsing through NTEP’s turf trove was rather laborious.

A user would first select a species to study, then a variable – for example, quality ratings or genetic color, density or drought tolerance – then, depending on the variable, there could be another sub- variable to select. Ultimately, the result would be a static table of results, usually with dedicated columns for trial location and rows for cultivar. A user wanting to select another variable would have to repeat the process to access another static table. Someone hoping to examine a cultivar’s suitability for multiple variables should switch between multiple tables and cross-reference them to perform a thorough analysis.

It is perhaps telling that the NTEP website even has a section dedicated to help with printing tables. He suggests opening the printable version, in PDF format, and printing the entire report or selected pages. For reference, the full report of the latest National Tall Fescue Test is a 125-page document.

The renovation took more than a decade.

“It’s been on my to-do list since 2010,” says Kevin Morris, NTEP chief executive and GCSAA educator member for eight years. “But 2010, 2011…it wasn’t good economically, and we didn’t have the money to do anything.”

‘Just the Beginning’

Here are the same results for the same settings from the ntep.org website. Note that the image is made up of three tables put together; each search would have created one of three tables, and the tables include data from five test locations – four of which might not be relevant to the searcher.

CCIV Fertilizer Pellets

In 2017, Eric Watkins, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Minnesota, received a $5.4 million grant from the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative to study fine fescues . Watkins, who served on the NTEP Policy Committee from 2014-2018, used part of this grant to design and build a database of NTEP’s fine fescue data, and that database has grown to include also the other NTEP cultivar data, as well as an improved user interface.

The result is the NTEP Turfgrass Trial Explorer v1.0.

“I used it myself,” Morris says. “We have a new trial coming up. It would have taken me a long time to look into it. I just launched it. It took less than 20 minutes which would have taken hours before. It’s very useful.”

Morris points out that this is still an early version. Data from the 2021 trials has not yet been included (that data is still available on ntep.org and should be included in Explorer by this fall, Morris says), and there are additional features still to be rolled out.

“It’s version 1.0. This is just the first step,” says Morris. “There are still things we need to improve, and we have a plan over the next 2 1/2 years to spend an additional $200,000, mostly on programming time. We have a plan to add functionality. Where we we’d like to get there, we’d like you to be able to say, ‘What’s the best drought-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass?’

Target Superintendents

A screenshot of the same query (Bentgrass Greens; Spring, Summer, Fall Density; Georgia) from a cell phone. The mobile interface is still a work in progress, says NTEP’s Kevin Morris, but it’s still usable.

CCIV Fertilizer Pellets

Explorer is responsive — it works from a smartphone or tablet (“I cringe just thinking about doing it on my old-fashioned phone,” Allen says) — though Morris warns that mobile usability is still a work in progress. And an app is in the works for home DIYers looking to upgrade their garden stands.

But this version of Explorer – with its customizations for locations, site features, and management practices, plus, most importantly, its click-sortable tables and ability to export to Excel-compatible CSV files – should be , as Allen said, a boon for golf course superintendents.

“They’re a prime target for us,” Morris says. “They are advanced users. They don’t buy seeds all the time, but when they do buy, they need access to data to be able to make informed decisions. So now we have something, something that works. It’s not perfect, but we want people to try it. Tell us what you can and can’t do with it. What are the problems? We want to hear from people.

If Allen’s reaction is any indication, most of what they hear from superintendents will be positive.

“I don’t think the majority of superintendents need it often, but if you have plans for renovations in the future, or if you have a problem, if you’re looking for stress tolerances…that’s what when you need it. NTEP data,” says Allen. “That’s the only resource you have, that NTEP data. Of course, every golf course is a microclimate. You can’t get the exact answer. you need. But that’s the holy grail right there, narrowing it down to two or three cultivars. Then you can talk to people, vendors, other superintendents who use it. I think they’re on a good path.

Andrew Hartsock is Senior Editor of GCM.