Lawn Solutions Australia at Jaspers Brush has become the first and only company in the world to have one of its turf grasses receive the Smart Approved WaterMark.
The company which has 43 members across the country and employs 15 staff at its Shoalhaven base gained recognition for its TifTuf Hybrid Bermuda turf, which the company has been developing over the past six years.
The Smart Approved WaterMark is a water-conscious certification provided to products so consumers can identify and access the most water-efficient products available on the market.
It's an achievement managing director Gavin Rogers is rightly proud of.
Considering much of the country has been ravaged by drought over recent years, the honour could not come at a better time.
In these strange times where COVID-19 has affected so many businesses, April was a record month for the business and May is also shaping up to be the same.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
Despite these strange times where COVID-19 has affected so many businesses, Mr Rogers says April was a record month for the business and May is shaping up to be the same.
"It's one of the few times I've been happy to be a turf farmer and not in the tourism industry," he laughed.
"Covid has been really good for the reestablishment of the Aussie backyard. We've started to work out spending time with the kids and family in the backyard is pretty good.
"We've lost the backyard over the past 20 years - you usually don't get one in the new blocks, but we've seen a huge shift back to the Aussie backyard and with people being forced to work from home, the do it yourself market has been incredibly strong.
"Christmas is traditionally the busiest time for the turf industry but a lot of us are having weeks that are better than Christmas weeks.
"Pretty incredible when you consider how hard things are in the economy.
It's one of the few times Ive been happy to be a turf farmer and not in the tourism industry.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
"One of our biggest competitors in the turf industry is the winnebagos and overseas travel. The baby boomers retire and they either spend money on their homes or take off overseas.
"We are going to see a return to spending locally which is good."
The Smart Approved WaterMark was established by the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), Irrigation Australia, The Nursery and Garden Industry Association and the Australian Water Association.
"The mark provides an identifiable label for consumers so they can make informed choices when choosing products, services and organisations that use water officially reducing per capita water consumption and helping in the end goal of preserving such a precious resource," Mr Rogers said.
Covid has been really good for the reestablishment of the Aussie backyard. Weve started to work out spending time with the kids and family in the backyard is pretty good.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
The Smart Approved WaterMark is aligned with the European Union under the Waterwise mark, and in the USA under the WaterSense, a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program designed to encourage water efficiency - the aims of all three are to further support innovation in water conservation from Australia to Europe the US and eventually across the globe.
"Various other products in Australias have this WaterMark - soil wetting agents, pool covers, solar stuff, waterless vacuum cleaners," he said.
"No plants are on there but some plant additives are.
"Five years ago we started applying for it, but it was 'no you don't have enough data'.
"We've invested more money in turf research than anyone else in the Southern Hemisphere - a huge private investment - we've imported 90 varieties of grass, testing what would be best suited to the Australian conditions.
"There is nowhere in the world like Australia.
"We've had more Australia data done over four years and it has finally gained the seal of approval, which is a great credit to the whole team who have put in years and years of work."
Such is the dedication and thoroughness the team has put every variety of turf grass in that category under two shelters - one is a total rain out shelter (no rainfall can get in and the moisture is controlled), the other is a total rainout shelter with 70 per cent shade cloth to show what grasses can do in shade, which is increasingly becoming the norm nowadays as our blocks become smaller and houses bigger.
Christmas is traditionally the busiest time for the turf industry but a lot of us are having weeks that are better than Christmas weeks. Pretty incredible when you consider how hard things are in the economy.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
"Every seven to 10 days we run a wear machine over them, which simulates things like rugby rucks, kids playing, dogs walking etc. We want to dry hell out of it - there is no point having a drought tolerant grass that can't handle wear and tear," Mr Rogers said.
"All theses things are considered and at the end of the trial period we can see what grass would survive with minimal input including chemicals and fertilisers.
"We've even allowed the grasses in the trials to get diseases to see if they can recover."
The data was compiled independently by the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), the largest organisation of its type in the world, which has a homebase in England, but offices across the globe.
"They do everything for the World Cup Soccer, tennis court grasses like Wimbeldon," he said.
"We also had trials running simultaneously with the University of Georgia, the largest turfgrass research university in the world."
And after all that data was compiled and submitted, TifTuf became the first and only grass ever in the world to be awarded the Smart Approved WaterMark.
Weve invested more money in turf research than anyone else in the Southern Hemisphere - weve imported 90 varieties of grass, testing what would be best suited to the Australian conditions.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
TifTuf has been bred and developed for our tough conditions.
"We imported the grass from the US but the research and development has all been done here in Jaspers Brush," he said.
"We search the world for the best turf grasses. Lawn Solutions Australia has brought in the largest amount of turfgrass ever through quarantine in this country."
TifTuf requires less inputs (fertilisers and water) and has a dense sward that enables it to handle high wear situations, while remaining soft and visually superior to other turf varieties.
A number of members of the Rogers family work within the business and with the adjacent Turfco operation.
Son Joe is the commercial and research development manager at Lawn Solutions.
"We set up a criteria for the grasses we want, the universities give us 20 or 30 varieties that might meet what we want and test and trial them for our conditions," he said.
"Australia is so different to the climate of the States. We can't mirror that and while they [the grasses] might be going well over there, they struggle here simply due to the vastly different climate.
"We do our due diligence on the grasses which can tackle up to six years. We trial them here at our main facility at Jaspers Brush but we also have other members around the country trialling them to get a greater array of climate.
"We won't release a grass in Australia unless we know it will work in Broome, Melbourne, Cairns, Perth and everywhere in between - it has to be Australia wide."
Read more: Landslip visible on Cambewarra Mountain
Gavin compared finding the "next thing in grass" similar to "finding the next Winx"
"Our breeding partners produce up to 15,000 different varieties of grasses per annum and of those we choose the best 90 grasses," he said.
TifTuf became the first and only grass ever in the world to be awarded the Smart Approved WaterMark - its been bred and developed for our tough conditions.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
"It is then like finding the next Winx - a lot of the grasses we bring out here aren't bred for the American market. We get US scientists to come here and look at our climatic conditions and they then go back and through fast track breeding processes release grasses they think will work in Australia.
"They may never be released anywhere else in the world."
"I'd say 95 per cent of those 90 grasses are not commercially available anywhere in the world - they are strictly research grassses that they think will fit our bill," Joe said.
Gavin said hundreds and millions of dollars are involved in the US - unfortunately the Australian Government doesn't have any budget for turf grass research.
"That's a real shame as our green spaces are huge - ovals, sports, everywhere," Gavin said.
"In Australia it's 100 per cent private enterprise which is why we have to partner with key American breeders because they have hundreds of millions of dollars of funding behind them to do that work.
We wont release a grass in Australia unless we know it will work in Broome, Melbourne, Cairns, Perth and everywhere in between - it has to be Australia wide.Lawn Solutions Australia commercial and research development manager Joe Rogers
"Sure, we pay dearly for all that.
"The industry over here was in trouble - we only really had one or two varieties - we were under pressure from environmentalists to reduce emissions from grasses, reduce mowing, reduce fertilisers, reduce pesticides and more importantly reduce water.
"Going forward a lot of the grasses we have now have a close to zero fertiliser requirement, nearly zero pesticide is normal, they wear very very well and use up to 50 per cent less water.
"There is also the pressure to develop a grass that looks beautiful.
"And our climate is different to anywhere else in the world. There is no climate that's similar to the Sydney climate as far as turf grass growing - some areas of Brazil are considered close but everywhere else either has much more extreme winters or summers - we have this cold and warm season climate which is harsh on grasses.
"Some of the grasses that might work well in the rest of the world come here and get disease and fail."
The Lawn Solutions business was started back in the year 2000 with Sir Walter, with Lawn Solutions Australia group officially formed in 2013, and now has 43 member farms across the country.
The group produces 14 million square metres of turf grass per year - around 55 per cent of all turf grass produced across Australia.
"There are about 230 turf farms in Australia, with Lawn Solutions' group of 43 farms producing about 55 per cent of the total amount of turf grown in the country," Mr Rogers said.
The group supplies Bunnings Australia wide and is in every single market that turf grass is sold in Australia.
At its Jaspers Brush base it employs 15 staff in a variety of roles including research and development, marketing, agricultural scientists, greenkeepers and even has three staff just dedicated to social media in the digital team.
Lawn Solutions Australia has the largest digital media audience of anyone in the turf industry in the world, with a current Facebook following of over 130,000 and combined with its YouTube audience is well over 150,000.
We were under pressure from environmentalists to reduce omissions from grasses, reduce mowing, reduce fertilisers, reduce pesticides and more importantly reduce water. Going forward a lot of the grasses we have now have a close to zero fertiliser requirement, nearly zero pesticide is normal, they wear very very well and use up to 50 per cent less water.Lawn Solutions Australia managing director Gavin Rogers
"That's awesome for us," Mr Rogers said.
"To give you an idea other turf groups in Australia has audiences of two to three thousand -
the largest in the US is Harmony Turf , who supply Home Depot, Lowe's and Walmart (the equivalent to Australia's Bunnings and Masters) something like 2200 big block stores - we have a larger audience than them.
"The advantage for our members is we work on the best turf grasses for today and breed the best ones for the future but also find a market for them."
Along with its TurfCo operations the company employs 50 plus people in the Shoalhaven and over its four local sites has around 250 acres under turf farming.
And it's not just grass - there are fertilisers, pesticides and other turf products.
Mr Rogers said the business is very family orientated, with his wife Sue also working with the company as do three of his children, Joe, Marcus, who is the general manager of TurfCo and Sasha who runs turf procurement and logistics, along with other family members.
"We also like to support locals," he said.
"We use guys like Douglas Transport, get our fertilisers from Bishops South Nowra.
"While we have staff working across other states, it's great to have our main base here in the Shoalhaven.
"That's something we are very proud of."