Weeds are everywhere! Those invasive plants often outcompete desirable crops for water, nutrients and sunlight. Weeds reproduce and spread quickly, making them difficult to remove. They can cause yield loss and add significantly to farming production costs. They are one of the costliest pest issues to control.
Pesticides may be used, but that’s often not the best choice as some pesticides can go beyond targeting weeds and kill crops and beneficial insects.
On National Weed Day, learn about the institutions and universities supported by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture that are developing non-chemical, sustainable weed management practices.
North Dakota State University is introducing farmers and scientists to nonchemical weed management methods using alternative cropping sequences and flame weeding. Cropping sequences is a rotation system approach in crop production that enables available natural resources to be preserved and more efficiently used. Flame weeding is the controlled killing of weeds with intense heat produced by a fuel-burning device, either hand-held or tractor-mounted. Both approaches are less reliant on synthetic herbicides and have the potential to safely produce desired foods for the public, protect the environment and enhance the sustainability of the agroecosystems. The benefits of the research projects will help to sustain agricultural production needed to ensure adequate food supply while enhancing long-term sustainability of agricultural production.
In Arkansas, soybean is the dominant cash crop, bringing in $1.6 billion in 2020. Soil erosion, water availability and herbicide-resistant weeds are the most significant issues that threaten the soybean yield and profitability of Arkansas soybean producers. A three-year study by the University of Arkansas showed that a specific blend of cover crops with no-till practices can improve soybean yields by more than 10%. Successful implementation of cover crops by farmers will increase soybean crop yields, reduce input costs, and save farmers $30-$60 per acre.
Farmers in Connecticut are facing similar weed problems, and the current use of plastic mulch to reduce weeds comes with pros and cons. The main cons of using plastic mulch are increased labor costs for removal and that it is nonrecyclable. The University of Connecticut is working towards a solution. Connecticut scientists are researching biodegradable plastic mulch as a sustainable and cost-effective alternative to plastic mulch. The biodegradable mulch is plowed into the ground at the end of the growing season, which eliminates the recycling, sustainability, and labor issue concerns about plastic mulch. The greatest benefit to farmers on switching to this innovative mulch is that it requires less labor and eliminates removal costs.
Top image: Field of strawberry plants. Courtesy of Alabama Extension Flickr.