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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Grow Lights Help Green The Brewers Turf For Opening Day

Chuck Quirmbach
Grow lights help the grass grow at Miller Park.

The Milwaukee Brewers begin their regular season Thursday afternoon at Miller Park, with an opening day game against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers say they've been using grow lights, but not a controversial weed-killer, to get the field at Miller Park ready for play.

There are more than two acres of turf on the playing field, including what's in foul territory. As usual, the Miller Park roof was open almost all winter, and the grass did not fare very well, says the Brewers' Director of Grounds Michael Boettcher.  

"The cold did have an impact on the surface this year. The snow — the late onset of the snow and the snowpack we did have kept temperatures cooler around here this winter, as well. So, I think you could look at them both. But those extreme cold we took in late January and February definitely had some impacts on us, and we're just trying to grow out of those, at this point," Boettcher says.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
The banks of grow lights are on rolling platforms and rise about 10 feet above the turf.

Helping to grow and green the grass since early March have been several banks of grow lights on rolling platforms about 10 feet above the turf. Boettcher says there have been more than the usual number of banks, which serve as synthetic sunshine.

"It's a specific light bulb that we use, that creates a wavelength beneficial to the turf grass that it can utilize. The by-product of the lamp is heat. We don't use it necessarily for the heat. It's more for the light. This time of year, a little extra heat for the grass is definitely not a bad thing," Boettcher explains.

Making it tougher for Boettcher is that this season's opening game is part of Major League Baseball's earliest start of a season ever, for games held in the U.S.  For Miller Park, that means several fewer days of grass-growing weather, prior to the opener.

As far as using fertilizer or weed killer to help create a lush field, Boettcher doesn't get too specific. He says he follows a standard nutrient management plan. He told a news conference Wednesday that the Brewers do not use the herbicide Roundup.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
This year, Miller Park has several fewer days of grass-growing weather, prior to the opener.

"No sir, and I can't comment on anything else along those lines. But, it is not used here, no," Boettcher emphasizes.

Roundup is in the news because of its controversial ingredient glyphosate. A federal jury in California recently found that the product caused a man's cancer — the second cancer case in two years where Roundup has been blamed. Bayer, the weed killer's current maker, denies any health effect.

At Miller Park, Boettcher says the turf is not devoid of other life.  "There's bugs living in our surface.  I definitely saw a few earthworms the other day. It's a living, feeding, breathing surface," Boettcher explains.

He also hopes it's a pretty smooth surface. A hope that will be tested during Thursday afternoon's game in front of about 40,000 fans.


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Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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