Severe storm damages Arkansas turfgrass research, cancels field day

A brief but violent storm that swept through Fayetteville Monday damaged research structures on the Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center, resulting in the cancellation of a turfgrass research field day and likely loss of a year’s worth of data.

Mike Richardson, professor of horticulture and turfgrass researcher for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said three hoop houses used for drought research were destroyed. Each structure cost about $25,000.

A fence around a turfgrass tennis court used for sport field research was also damaged.

Richardson said the damage is still being assessed, but he anticipates the total cost could go as high as $100,000. See photos here.

The destroyed structures were used to keep rain off turf research plots to test drought tolerance, Richardson said. “Obviously, they are no longer protected from rain,” he said.

His most optimistic guess, Richardson said, is that the hoop houses might be replaced by the end of August. If September turns out to be hot and dry, he said, researchers might still get some drought tolerance data for 2018.

It’s just as likely that no data will be collected for this year, Richardson said. Other turf research plots are undamaged, he said.

Richardson said a turfgrass research field day scheduled for July 25 has been cancelled.

Persons who preregistered for the field day have been notified by email of the cancellation. Richardson said they should contact Shelby Hanson, horticulture department fiscal manager, at 479-575-6680 about refunds.

Vaughn Skinner, director of the Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center, said the damage seems to have been localized to the north end of the research farm, where the turfgrass research is located.

Skinner said initial checks of the 725-acre research farm, located on Garland Avenue near its intersection with Interstate 49, revealed no other damage to the buildings, equipment or research plots, although a tree limb fell on an employee’s personal vehicle, he said.