Storm severely damages Arkansas turfgrass facility

The University of Arkansas’ turfgrass program took a major hit from Mother Nature this week, but vows to bounce back.


Filed to: Arkansas

University of Arkansas turfgrass
One of three structures housing turfgrass drought research at the University of Arkansas that was destroyed Monday during a storm that came through Fayetteville, Ark. Photo courtesy of Mike Richardson

University of Arkansas professor of horticulture and turfgrass researcher Mike Richardson, Ph.D., was in his campus office late Monday afternoon. His to-do list included printing plot signs for what was scheduled to be the school’s upcoming field day in Fayetteville. Richardson got sidetracked, though. He gazed out his window, as the weather, which can affect his work, was especially intriguing at that moment.

“Trees were swaying and the rain was blowing sideways and from multiple directions,” Richardson tells GCM.

Soon, his phone rang. It was his technician, John McCalla, calling. McCalla, who was about 2 miles from Richardson’s location, had some bad news: Three structures at the Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center — each measuring approximately 30 feet wide, 70 feet long and 2,000 square feet and housing drought research — had been destroyed by the violent storm. Nobody was hurt at the research facility, Richardson says. Although damages are still being assessed, he estimates losses will be at least $70,000.

There are other losses, too. They include the destruction of nearly a year’s worth of drought-specific trials and research data. “We had a master’s student with two projects going, and he was scheduled to collect data for the rest of the season,” says Richardson, a 20-year GCSAA member, adding that trials were underway for other projects and companies, and those have now been compromised. “It’s only grass; it’s not the end of the world,” Richardson says.

In addition, that Arkansas turfgrass field day that was scheduled for July 25 has been canceled, Richardson says. The event, held every other year, will now happen in 2019. “We weren’t even sure some of the mess would be cleaned up (by next week). There is tangled steel. For safety issues, it is too risky,” he says.

Some Arkansas turfgrass students actually weren’t far from the damage. “They were 300, maybe 400 yards away in a field lab building,” Richardson says. The structure the students were in was not affected. “Around the (turfgrass) farm, there was not another bit of damage anywhere.”

The storm’s toll will create some financial hardship. “I don’t think we’ll receive full compensation to replace all of the structures. We can’t just say ‘Let’s build three more.’ And it impacts our ability to do this work going forward,” Richardson says.

He’s doing his best to remain positive, though, noting that he and Doug Karcher, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Horticulture at Arkansas and a 26-year association member, are looking forward.

“It’s a frustration and a challenge, but we are pretty darn optimistic. We’ll pick up the pieces, rebuild and go on,” Richardson says.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.

Filed to: Arkansas