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Archive | Weeds

Cover Crops on the Farm

Cover crops are increasingly being used by farmers across the country to suppress weeds, conserve soil, protect water quality and control pests and diseases.

cover crops on the farm

A mix of rye, clover and vetch. Farmers have steadily increased their use of cover crops over the past five years.

The fourth annual SARE/CTIC Cover Crop Survey collected data from more than 2,000 growers from 48 states and the District of Columbia. The survey provides insight into cover crop usage and benefits and explores what motivates farmers to include cover crops in their farm management and soil health plans.

Respondents reported a steady increase in the number of acres they have cover cropped over the past five years. They said the most important benefits of cover crops include improved soil health, reduced erosion and compaction, and increased soil organic matter. Other reported key benefits of using covers are weed and insect control, nitrogen fixation, attracting pollinators and providing deep taproots.

North Central SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) and CTIC (Conservation Technology Information Center) sought data on how farmers use cover crops to manage their fertilizer inputs. Growers were asked to indicate their level of agreement with a series of fertilizer-related statements using a scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). The statement that got the highest level of agreement was “Using cover crops has enabled me to reduce application of nitrogen on my cash crop,” with 134 of 1,012 respondents strongly agreeing and 244 checking “agree.” The statement that had the highest level of disagreement was “Using cover crops has required me to use additional crop fertility inputs over time to meet the needs of my cash crop.”

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Flame Weeding: Turn up the Heat to Fight Weeds

Flame weeding (also referred to as flaming) has been an apt option for or­ganically ridding row crops and fields of uninvited weeds while also replenishing the soil with nutrients from the result­ing carbon. Wedding the proficiency of flame with the compressed liquid power of propane has served many farmers and food producers well over the past cen­tury. According to the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticide, the first agricultural flame weeder was patented in 1852.

flame weeding with propane

Flaming with propane attacks weeds with no repercussions on crops or fields.

Flame weeding is done by generat­ing intense heat through a chosen de­vice — whether it is a handheld torch or tractor-mounted — that sears the leaves of the weeds, which causes the cell sap to expand, thusly damaging the cell walls. “You’re watching for the color change, depending on the weed and its maturity,” said Charles House of Earth & Sky Solutions. Leaves wilt and dehydrate the plant, leaving the invaders no other option than to die, sometimes up to three days later.

“The key to successful flame weeding is the maturity of the plant you’re trying to eradicate. The smaller, the better,” he explains. The best time is when they’re immature and in the cotyledon stage.

Flame Weeding Background

Flaming gained popularity in the first third of the 20th century and continued through the 1960s until pesticides re­placed industry attentions. Though its use waned over the following 20 years, flame weeding resurfaced and regained popularity in the early 1990s, and con­tinues to be used today. So continues flame weeding’s renaissance. Continue Reading →

Organic Weed Control: Cultural and Mechanical Methods

Organic weed control methods are often debated and dismissed by large chemical sprayers. But organic weed control methods do work, and work better for your field’s health.

Organic weed control

Weeds happen. Knowing how to work with them can save you a lot of time and effort.

Weeds happen. That is a fact of life for organic farmers, and therefore many of our field operations are designed to make sure that the health and quality of our crops are not jeopardized by the inevitable weed pressure.

Planning an effective weed-control program involves many different aspects of organic crop production. As farmers begin to explore organic possibilities, the first two questions invariably seem to be: “What materials do I buy for soil fertility?” and “What machinery do I buy to control weeds?” We asked these questions when we started organic farming, but we rapidly realized that this is not the best way to understand successful organic farm management.

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Weed Control: Mulching Questions Answered

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products.

Weed control through mulching makes sense for many growers, but there are often questions about sourcing, safety and sustainability. May is a critical time for many gardeners to deal with existing or imminent weed issues before problems get totally out of control. Mulching is a key component of a multi-pronged approach to gaining the upper hand in the weed control battle.

Is Cypress Mulch Sustainable?

Shredded cypress is a popular mulching material for weed control because it is slow to decompose and the long strands lock together and don’t blow or float away easily. Attractive and natural looking, cypress mulch has many fans in the garden. The majestic swampy cypress forests across the Southeast, where most of the cypress mulch is harvested, are a true ecological sanctuary and face encroaching building development as more and more people flock to the Sunbelt. Gardeners are  now beginning to look at the source of their mulch and question the sustainability of cypress mulch harvesting.

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Dicamba Drift

stelprdb1101707Dicamba herbicide drift onto plants growing adjacent to farm fields causes significant delays in flowering, as well as reduced flowering of those plants and results in decreased visitation by honeybees, according to researchers at Penn State and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. “Because of the challenge of glyphosate-resistant weeds, new types of transgenic crops that are resistant to synthetic-auxin herbicides including dicamba and 2, 4-D will be widely planted in coming growing seasons, raising concerns about damage from these drift-prone herbicides,” said John Tooker, associate professor of entomology, Penn State. The team examined the crop species alfalfa (Medicago sativa), which requires insect pollination to produce seeds, and the native plant species common boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), which is highly attractive to a wide range of pollinator species. “We found that both plant species are susceptible to very low rates of dicamba — just 0.1 to 1 percent of the expected field application rate can negatively influence flowering,” said Tooker. “By extension, we expect that other broadleaf plant species are similarly susceptible to this sort of damage from drift-level doses.”

This article appears in the February 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Book review: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth Book Review

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth by Steven Druker

by Steven Druker, review by Simi Summer, Ph.D.

Safe food activists and concerned consumers alike will not want to miss the newest entry into the GM food debate by public interest attorney Steven Druker. Endorsed by Dame Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, the book has been launched at a critical time in the history of national and global food production.

Unwanted trends in the name of “sustainable agriculture” and international agricultural development point to the success of the Green Revolution in deceiving innocent farmers through biotechnology. This includes the widespread distribution of GM seeds to “solve” world hunger. Likewise, many countries with strict labeling laws, that have banned GMOs, are now considering commercial planting of GM crops. This reflects a change in collective thinking which seriously challenges international GM blockades currently in place. On the home front, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, otherwise known as the Dark Act, has been making headway, while GMO labeling supporters are busy letting congress know that this is not the kind of legislation they want implemented.

Although Druker’s book addresses the most current food safety concerns in an indirect manner, his topic is timely. He offers a compelling historical exposé of the way in which both the government and leading scientific bodies have convincingly misrepresented the facts about biotechnology. Druker claims that when GMO crops were first approved for commercial use in 1992, the government covered up and ignored the warnings of their own scientists, lied about the facts and subsequently violated federal food safety law by allowing these foods to be sold and marketed without using standard testing to prove that they were safe. Continue Reading →