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A Case Study in Agronomic Bravery

Dave Wilber

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Let’s talk Agronomic Bravery

brave  /brāv/  adjective  1. ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage. "a brave soldier"
synonyms:    courageous, plucky, fearless, valiant, valorous, intrepid, heroic, lionhearted, manful, macho, bold, daring, daredevil, adventurous, audacious, death-or-glory.
verb  1. endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behavior) without showing fear.  "we had to brave the full heat of the sun"
synonyms:    endure, put up with, bear, withstand, weather, suffer, sustain, go through; 

When you look at the root definitions of “brave”, it quickly can show that being brave somehow intersects with life choices that are in some way dangerous. Makes sense. It’s that kind of word. It connotes you being in some danger and it also signifies keeping others from harm’s way.

I had a coaching call (I really despise the that phrase, but it is a part of what I do) with a newer client last week. And as Super X laid out plans for the their upcoming season, it all sounded technically sound and I found myself wondering why I was reacting to it in a less than positive way. Aren’t sound, solid, technical well drafted plans supposed to sound good? I guess. But I also know that sometimes a fighter has a plan, until they get hit hard enough to send them to the canvas because they didn’t think about getting really hit.

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So I quickly steered the conversation into a “what if” type line of thinking. Something along the lines of, “What if that first aerification event gets rained out?” and “Explain to me your strategy for record heat” and “Where’s your head as far as the janky pump station you have”.   As I continued along this line of tough questions, Super X started to lose his cool. 

“Dave, I can’t plan for every bad thing that is possibly going to happen”, said Super X. True. For the most part, we can’t begin to predict all the things that can and will go wrong. I agree. 

“What if I told you that you lack bravery?”, I said in an abrupt manner. Long silence. Long. Dalai Lama long. And I could hear the anger boiling up.

“Look”, I said, “what you just laid out for me is good. It’s textbook solid. And I’m not impressed. At your level, at your degree of happening that you have to make, I don’t see anything more than you just waiting for… next year”.  That did it. A string of expletives blasted thru the phone at me. It was as if I had called his dog a goat. How could I be so wrong?

What’s the point here? My job as an agronomic advisor isn’t just to shake my head yes to cool ideas and usage of the latest and greatest discoveries in Turfgrass History. Quite the opposite is often true. What I am tasked with is getting supers to look at their situation and find the death traps. Find the scary places. Seek out the spots that they really don’t want to shine the lights on.

Let’s go back to Super X. This facility is very irrigation dependent. They have not a lot of storage. They have questionable water supply issues in both quantity and quality. They have older control systems and a pumping station that is headed for it’s last years. It’s a seven figure conversation, starting with  the number 2 or maybe even a 3. Yeah. Serious. Super X is super comfortable talking with me about Fertility and Fungicide rotations and all that. He’s got that in the bag. But not a mention of the whole irrigation picture as part of his plan. Sure, he mentioned it in our first session, right along with mentioning that the shop  lift was old and that he needs a new set of dew whips.

My job as an agronomic advisor isn’t just to shake my head yes to cool ideas and usage of the latest and greatest discoveries in Turfgrass History.

“Dave, it’s going to be years before they even want to start talking about this. We just finished spending money on trees and bunkers. They are tapped out,” was the story. And I agree. The addition of bunkers of the finest variety and a tree plan with the finest GPS mapping was outstanding. And now it’s time to keep going. And this is the point where I mention I might have fixed that irrigation system before doing the bunkers, but what good is my second guessing, really. Thus ensued the back and forth about how Super X doesn’t love his Golf and Grounds Committee meetings and how the whole thing is hard for him. Yeah, bro. The business is hard.

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I am a veteran of 100’s of committee meetings. And I can tell you that at any level, it’s a minefield. With potential to make or break careers in several wrong spoken sentences or misplaced emotions. And I get that we Turfheads love to spout GDD and ET and BMP and all the other cool letter combos. To technically over-wow our audience can be a disease. I get it. I’m a recovering over-explainer. But sometimes, the Brave thing to do is to kick in your own teeth a bit and prepare to deliver some hard news. in very straightforward language. The back of the house, the unseen, is part of their asset too. 

Now, there are ways to do this. Being prepared is key. Being completely versed in the subject is key. Being fully aware of the potential questions and who will be asking them is key. But make no mistake, you are a Steward of their property. An expert. And to be one, you have to have all the data. All the info. And MOST IMPORTANT... you can’t hide from the tougher issues.

And I get that we Turfheads love to spout GDD and ET and BMP and all the other cool letter combos. To technically over-wow our audience can be a disease. I get it. I’m a recovering over-explainer...

So now Super X and I are having a legit agronomy discussion. He’s done being mad at me. He’s seeing the light of what happens if the troubles he is used to go on too long.  We are talking about the full evaluation of what is in place and making very strong assessment of not only remaining life span but efficiency right now. It’s time to get brave and collect some data. Do some pump testing, do some in-field auditing, dig some holes and look at some old valves that may have failed. It’s time to look at power cost and consumption data. It’s time to consider alternative water sources. It’s time to be brave. 

There’s one last point. The very best superintendents that I have ever seen are so good at getting people to follow them into battle. So the tactic here, is to look deep at the data and instead of reporting to everyone about the sky falling, the move is to get a few small squads together and show them the info. To find who is listening and who wants to pick up a weapon or two and join in the fight. And it is also time to help the faint hearted get up to speed and get comfortable. So that they will also support the mission.

Marching orders set. Plan to make a plan in place. Experts' phone numbers at the ready, now Super X can be agronomically brave. He can look hard at his situation and put together a plan that includes not hitting the floor in bewilderment. WHEN the punches come. And they will come.

I’ll write about this more in some future case studies. But I thought it might illustrate for you that our business has a level of competence in planning that includes putting your whole heart and soul into the win. 

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Dave,

Good article. I particularly like the one last point; if you do not have a team that will walk through a wall for you, figure out how to get them to. Whether that is with subtractions and additions, if you do not have a focused and supportive team, goodnight...………………. 

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Thank you, Paul. I am sure that is especially true at your place. But true everywhere.

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Spoken like someone who has been there, and there is no substitute for that.  Visions of pastimes when I "should have" flashed through my mind as I read your text.  And that's how you learn.

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On 3/16/2019 at 8:07 AM, Jonathon Scott said:

Spoken like someone who has been there, and there is no substitute for that.  Visions of pastimes when I "should have" flashed through my mind as I read your text.  And that's how you learn.

Definitely have been there and have those same visions!

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