Turffalo to ease lawn water woes

By Cory Chandler
The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
3 July 2004

The hunt began back in 1989, through the pastures and prairie land of Texas.

It eventually expanded as far as Iowa and North Dakota.

Fifteen years later, Dan Ryan has what he's been looking for, and he believes he has a fix for homeowners with thirsty lawns.

Ryan and Texas Tech agriculturalists have developed a buffalograss they say has the aesthetic appeal of bermuda and fescue lawn grasses while requiring a third of the water to maintain.

This could be a boon to parched lawns throughout the Southwest, where battles over water likely will intensify in coming decades.

"Basically, they were trying to come up with a buffalograss for homeowners," said Brandon Lenzmeier, a sales representative for Abernathy-based Frontier Hybrids, which put Turffalo on the market three weeks ago.

The new turfgrass is designed to be drought resistant, with root systems sinking up to 10 feet into the ground, while retaining the density and true green color enjoyed with varieties like bermuda or fescue.

Turffalo is the result of 15 years of research in what Dick Auld, Texas Tech Department of Plant and Soil Sciences chairman, points out is a unique pairing between the university and a private industry.

Ryan, owner of Frontier, began seeking out samples of buffalograss in 1989, searching through pastures for varieties that had the qualities he wanted.

"I started collecting them, digging them up and bringing them in," he said. "I had all this grass and I didn't know what to do with it."

He was growing the cultures in his back yard when he approached Auld with his idea of creating a drought resistant turfgrass.

"I said, 'Would you all like to work on buffalograss?' " he said and laughed.

Turns out, Auld did. Tech acquired the samples in 1991 and began the research that would eventually produce Turffalo.

The two men say Turffalo, a Diploid grass, has a color and density to rival that of other popular turf grasses.

But perhaps more important to the dusty plains of West Texas are Turffalo's drought resistant qualities. It can remain alive on as little as 10 inches of rainfall a year and will stay green on 2 inches of water per month.

"(Turffalo) is a plant that is going to be perfect for areas with water rationing," said Lenzmeier. "It will give people the opportunity to keep a beautiful lawn."

Auld pointed out buffalograss does not die, but goes dormant if it does not get enough water.

"Instead of dying, it hides, goes underground, goes dormant," he said. "And when it rains, (the grass) comes back like gangbusters."

The grass can be green again within three days of a good watering, Auld said.

Frontier put the product on the market about three weeks ago, and Ryan said it has already met with some success. At the moment, it is available through Ivey Gardens in Lubbock and Frontier's Web site, though Ryan is in contact with other local nurseries.

Lenzmeier said the company will pursue only a limited marketing campaign this year. Turffalo's growing season, which lasts from May to August, is halfway over, he noted.

For now, the company intends to gear its efforts toward West Texas markets while making pitches in some major cities. By next year, Frontier intends to roll out an extensive marketing campaign through southwestern states such as New Mexico, Arizona and California.

"The time for it has come," Ryan said. "Up until now, we've been able to find a little more water when we needed it. I'm thinking now we've come to the point where we need to save water."

cory.chandler@lubbockonline.com t766-8722

Copyright 2007: Turffalo/Frontier Hybrid