Oregon-led effort certifies water-saving grass
By Christina Williams
Editor, Sustainable Business Oregon
A high school in Riverside, Calif., sporting drought-tolerant grass certified by the Turffgrass Water Conservation Alliance.
Putting a new spin on the idea of a grassroots movement, a turfgrass industry consortium came together last year to provide research-backed certification for drought-tolerant grasses.
Led by researchers at Albany-based NexGen Turf Research, the Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance started certifying turfgrass varieties submitted to peer-reviewed research to verify that any drought-resistant claims are real.
"Grass has got to be one of the worst out there for putting things on a bag that just aren't true," said Kenneth Hignight, director of research at NexGen, who has been developing and studying drought-tolerant grass since 1993.
Back then, Hignight said, the industry wasn't really interested in saving water, but in the last few years the market for water-saving grass varieties has exploded — along with market confusion.
"By 2002, it was becoming serious. The industry was waking up, and people started putting out products with 'water-saving' on it," Hignight said. "Now the consumer who has no idea, thinks they're saving water."
For the first time this year, research-backed, drought-resistant grass varieties will be available at retailers including Lowe's, Home Depot, Costco and Wal-Mart.
Along with NexGen, grass seed vendors Pennington Seed, ProSeeds Marketing and Turf Merchants Inc., founded the alliance in March, 2010. University research members include the University of Arkansas, Purdue University and Virginia Tech University.
The Albany-based Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance is led by Mike Baker, alliance president, and has a budget of $60,000.
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