Flame Cultivation on Row Crops

Final Report for FNC05-567

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2005: $4,877.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


- Organic dairy and poultry rotational grazing since 1991
- 283 acres, 100 tillable, rent 79 acres, hay-pasture-corn-oats-barley
- Contour strip, conventional tillage
- 95% of work is done with family

Farming without chemicals started in 1988. Didn’t know much, kept going to meetings held by Midwestern Bio Ag. Now I’m starting to understand how the soil is supposed to work and how the right fertilizers work, how important it is to grow cover crops to help feed and build the soil and sustain life in the soil, and help control weeds. Timing is also very important in organic farming.

The goal of this project was to use flame cultivation in row crops.

We flamed corn in different stages of growth from four leaf stage up to waist high corn, and weeds at different sizes. The intense heat (1500-2000 degrees) made small weeds curl up quite fast and eventually die. Not all weeds died -- some came back but weren’t as vigorous.

The corn looked terrible 12 hours after flaming. You'd think I killed it -- the leaves turned white and it looks like they're frosted. After 7-10 days the corn goes into a growing spurt, it grows like crazy.

The waist high corn took a little longer to catch up but if you didn’t mark the rows you couldn’t tell the difference. I noticed the taller the corn at flaming the better the yield. There were still weeds in the field -- some as big as the corn -- but not as much weed pressure.

My son, uncle, and nephew helped put the flamer together. Son, Cole liked to light the flamer. Uncle John helped operate the flamer when I was doing chores. Nephew Brandon likes putting things together. New Horizons Farm Coop helped with the regulator on the LP tank and inspected it for leaks. Daughter, Sawyer took pictures. UW Extension's Vance Haugen helped with PR work (radio and paper) and talked at the demonstration.

Flame cultivation can work -- it doesn't damage the crop. Flaming is time consuming -- you can’t travel as fast (1-2 mph). Compared to spraying; there is no carryover, no erosion to worry about. I think it helps with insects because of the intense heat.

Flame cultivation is very comparable to chemicals in price. In the future with the prices of fuel, I don’t know.

Corn silage was about the same with or without flaming, 20 tons per acre. Grain yield 100-170 bu. per acre. Measured yield off the monitor of the combine for convenience -- didn’t weigh it.

Timing is very important in flame cultivation. It works best when the weeds are small. The bigger the weeds, the more LP you have to use. With the cost of LP going up this year, will it be affordable?

Not many people came to the demonstration. Some people came back to look at the corn to see what it did, or if I killed it and they were impressed that it was still growing.

I was expecting flaming to do as good a job as spraying but it didn’t. The smaller the weed the better the job. It works very well after a cultivation with the soil loosened up.

I had trouble keeping the flamer on the rows. It’s a flat land machine on contour strips. I'm starting to fix it up to cultivate and flame at the same time to save some time and control it better in the field.

I learned that I can do something different and make it work. Now I observe my crops better and compare them with others. I need to keep playing with the flamer and get the timing down better with the stage of growth on weeds. [With a project like this] you don’t know if it will work or not. I read a lot about it and wanted to try something like this. I would tell other farmers to give other things a try.

No economic impacts. Environmental impacts not much really except for weeds and bugs. Social impacts -- it got people talking about it. Some people would ask about it at the feed mill or in town.

My receiving this grant was in the local paper and radio. Had a demonstration at night so people could see the flame. It's awesome. There were 10 people at my demonstration and 25 at my pasture walk.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.