Facing the Weed Challenges in Organic Crops
TIFTON, Georgia – Outsmarting weeds in organic crop production sometimes requires unorthodox, or what USDA-ARS University of Georgia agronomist Carroll Johnson calls “bizarre,” management techniques.
Participants of UGA’s Principles of Integrated Weed Management in Organic Crop Production Workshop in Tifton, Georgia on June 22, got a glimpse of one of those unusual tactics at Ponder Farm: using a brush-hoe on peanut rows.
The power-driven implement, fitted with stiff bristles, scours the surface of the dirt as the peanut crop emerges, disrupting any potential weed germination. The technique seems to work, says Johnson. A week after making a pass with a brush-hoe in one experiment yielded a clean, weed-free peanut row, compared to a weedy row that didn’t get the brush treatment.
The brush-hoe may not be the right fit for every farmer, but the message is that a number of different methods exist for controlling weeds in organic crop production. From cultivation to cultural to organic products, participants of the UGA workshop got a crash course in integrated weed management. The workshop was supported by the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program.
The morning began with a tour of UGA’s Ponder Farm, where a variety of cultivation techniques – meant to slice, under-cut, bury, or disrupt weed seedlings -- were demonstrated, including a sweep cultivator, a tine weeder, and the brush-hoe. In addition, USDA-ARS Auburn research Ted Kornecki demonstrated various methods of managing cover crops using rolling technology.
“Cover crops in organic production are a weed prevention strategy,” said Julia Gaskin, UGA sustainable ag coordinator for Southern SARE. “But one of the biggest challenges to using cover crops is finding the right cover crop that fits your rotation and accomplishes your specific purposes.”
Afternoon sessions at the Tift County Extension Office included discussions of using winter and summer cover crops for weed suppression; modifying crop production practices to help suppress weeds, such as planting dates, crop selections, row spacings and seeding rates; the role of hand weeding; and using organic herbicides to control weeds.
“The goal of the program is to introduce a systems approach to weed management,” Johnson told attendees. “The saying goes that if you see a weed, then it’s already too late.”
Program presenters included Carroll Johnson; Ted Kornecki; Julia Gaskin; Robert Tate, UGA Organic Certificate Program manager; UGA Extension horticulturist George Boyhan; and James Brown from Fort Valley State University.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.