In 2001, the Pavels purchased Butte Vista Farm, a conventional 200-acre farm located in Lawrence County, South Dakota, on the northern foothills of the Black Hills. The primary crop is grass/alfalfa hay which is sold and/or used for the Pavels’ livestock, including a 32-head crossbred Boer goat herd. All of the goats will be used for this project. Additionally, 15 - 20 Angus cattle are grazed on the farm’s mixed-grass pastures in the spring, summer and fall on a per-head, per-day basis. Cross-fencing and watering systems allow for pasture rotation to sustain grass conditions and prevent overgrazing.
The Pavels have participated in a number of SARE projects (see attached sheet). In 2017, Mr. Pavel assisted an additional research project, funded through the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service and the United State Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. That project's goal was to evaluate the effectiveness of intensively grazing sheep to control Dalmatian Toadflax. Mr. Pavel monitored the condition of the 25-head of sheep and the amount and type of forage they consumed, set up test plots and documented results. Much of what was learned from that project will be applied to this chicory project.
In our semi-arid environment, chicory can quickly spread into adjoining pastures and hay land, choking out desirable plants, creating unhealthy ground cover and plummeting forage and crop production.
Livestock generally avoid the maturing plant. Marketing of forage products from an infested field is prohibited.
Chicory has historically existed where our farm is located, thus creating a vast accumulation of chicory seeds in our soils. Post-emergence herbicides have been typically ineffective. Failed control methods generally propagate chicory further. Chicory has become prolific in many previously weed-free areas well beyond our farm’s location. Consequently, Lawrence County has listed chicory on the county’s noxious weed list for 2019.
While we have typically utilized conventional practices on Butte Vista Farm, we will demonstrate Integrated Weed Management’s effectiveness in controlling chicory in side-by-side conventional and organic methodology operational processes. By blending and incorporating five strategies (preventive, cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical) into realistically-doable applications, an effective, ecologically-sound, financially-viable solution that is suitable for nearly any agricultural operation can be demonstrated. Long-term operational sustainability through enhanced quality and production of the land, resource stewardship and improved bottom line for the family farm then becomes more plausible.
1. Apply and evaluate Integrated Weed Management practices to control chicory via methods that are readily-achievable by average producers, both short- and long-term, in accordance with conventional and organic parameters. Specifically:
a. Test weed control results on intensively-grazed and non-grazed test plots using varied rates of pre-emergence herbicides, post-emergence herbicides and no chemical, and
b. Evaluate mowing at different intervals,
2. No marketing of infested hay.
3. Share findings through field days, a website, social media, newsletter, activity blog and Agri-tourist guests.
The spreading of Chicory via seeds can be wide-ranging; thus, the ultimate goal is to control seed production. Chicory also propagates from existing plants. And while its spread is more confined when regenerating from older plants, as the plant population increases, the potential for more seeds to be produced grows exponentially if the plant numbers are not controlled. Butte Vista Farm will combine cultural, mechanical, chemical and biological methods. Specified practices on Butte Vista Farm will be performed in 2019, then repeated in 2020 with modifications dictated by evaluating the 2019 data.
Grazing will be monitored to assure less than 50% of the forage is removed. Over-grazing weakens desirable plants, especially in dry conditions, affording chicory an opportunity to literally take root. Once grazing tests are completed, animals will be placed in a confined area for five days to assure their digestive system is clear of viable weed seeds. Because seeds may be harvested during haying season, infested forage will not be marketed.
Pre- and post-emergence chemicals will be tested, at varied rates, on rotational grazed and non-grazed plots. Grazing areas without chemicals will be compared to chemically treated plots . The plots will be small (less than one-acre each) to realize a measurable difference. Plots will be situated within infested areas of the farm and enclosed by solar-powered electric fences. The animals may need to acquire a taste for chicory. Hence, one small plot will be used as a “training plot.” Chemical-only trials will be performed on plots within a hay field and in a non-grazed pasture. Areas adjacent to the test plots will be chemically treated to avoid any cross-contamination of undesirable plants from the surrounding areas into the test plots.
As has been seen first-hand in the fields and pastures of Butte Vista Farm, chicory can quickly reduce the number of desirable plant species in an affected area. Ground cover and soil health conditions may be compromised. Thus, conditions will be closely monitored to evaluate the impact of an infestation of chicory. Soil health tests will be conducted to fully ascertain the impact of allowing chicory to grow in an unchecked manner. Soil health enhancing practices (cover crops, application of manure, no-till practices) will be considered to sustain or improve soil health.
The final project report will be filed at the conclusion of the project in late 2020. The information reported in this progress report (Education and Outreach Activity, Learning Outcomes, Success Stories and Recommendations) are results from the 2019 efforts. As can be seen by reviewing that data, there has been much information garnered so far. Some theories are being proven and others are needing further thought, trials and research. At the conclusion of the project in 2020, we will be able offer some definitive recommendations to ag producers and professionals that we feel will be very valuable.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We did several different methods of outreach to inform producers and professionals of the goals of our project. We are of the belief that in order to realize the full benefit of a research project, the information must be shared with those who can use it.
First, with the assistance of a local small business that offers services in social media outreach (Little Leaf Copy Editing), we established a monthly electronic newsletter and blog that was linked to our farm’s website (www.buttevistafarm.com) and Facebook page. Visitors to the website’s homepage could readily identify how to access the information, along with an indication that the project is funded through SARE and that the research is being done in cooperation with South Dakota State University. Also, on the site, is an explanation of the principles of IWM (Integrated Weed Management), which serves as the basis for the on-farm research project being conducted. Interested individuals could sign up for a newsletter that was regularly emailed to them at the same time the blogs were posted on the farm’s website. These efforts will continue in 2020 with an effort to reach more professional and producer groups.
We live in an area that has professionals working for the US Forest Service; US Fish and Wildlife Service; US Department of the Interior (Bureau of Land Management); South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and so on that directly deal with invasive weeds and pests. Through routine conversations with some of these individuals, it had come to our attention that they were dealing with an encroachment of chicory. While we knew that chicory had become invasive in our immediate area, and that it was spreading to agricultural lands in our region, we were a bit astounded to learn how much it had spread to the nearby public lands and forest. The agency personnel charged with controlling the weeds were actively searching for trusted data to assist them. We received affirmation that, as we have found in dealing with chicory for some time on our farm, published information about controlling chicory is limited. Many of these professionals were being put in the position of having to learn what control methods are successful and sustainable. Unfortunately, they did not have direct knowledge of our research efforts. But, are now excited to hear of our project.
Of particular interest to them was that we had South Dakota State University doing university-level trials on a number of types of herbicides selected to target the control of chicory. We were and continue further working with local experts with the Natural Resource and Conservation Service on conservation efforts on our farm that, although are more broad-based than our project, tie directly into our integrated weed management program. It must be said that because we at Butte Vista Farm are actively working with SARE, South Dakota State University and our contacts with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), our project has earned credibility and agency professionals are eager to learn what we discover. Obviously, in 2020 we must not take that for granted and we need to increase our efforts to make more people aware of what our SARE project is all about. The social media platform that has been established for the project will continue to be key in those efforts.
As with the industry professionals, getting information to producers is equally important. Organizations that serve the farmers and ranchers in the area (such as the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition, the local conservation districts, Cooperative Extension, etc.) offer an avenue to contact people who could benefit from the results of our project. We have and continue to participate in the events and tours sponsored by these organizations and that has afforded us the chance to have an informal conversation with people (ag producers and professionals) we meet about what we are doing with our farm-based research.
We had opportunities to be invited to speak to local and state professional groups at conferences or meetings being held in our area. Through our contact with NRCS, we had the chance to give a brief review of our research to the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership group when they met in the Black Hills in June of 2019. We were able to talk about our research goals with about 20 people (agriculture producers and ag professionals from across the state). Mr. Paul Johnson, who is the Weed and Science Coordinator with South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension (and the participating expert advisor for our project, conducting the herbicide trials on our farm) is an ad hoc member of the South Dakota Weed and Pest Commission – whose purpose is to develop programs for the prevention, suppression, control and eradication of weeds and pests in South Dakota. He arranged for us to present our program to the 10 members of the Commission at their meeting in Rapid City in September of 2019. Also, in attendance in the audience were several county weed and pest supervisors. This allowed us to share details of our project with nearly 30 weed and pest professionals. The following day, we hosted a tour of the project for a small group of the county weed and pest supervisors, which gave us a one-on-one opportunity to explain what IWM is doing for us. Further, because chicory has recently been deemed a local noxious weed in our county (Lawrence County), we have been in regular contact with our county weed and pest board. In 2019 we made two presentation to the board as to how the control efforts are evolving. The Lawrence County Weed and Pest Supervisor has personally toured our farm to discuss the chicory issue. We will continue to participate in such meetings, seminars and presentations in 2020 as the opportunities present themselves.
We discovered that merely by word of mouth, others learned about our efforts. In April of 2019 we were contacted by a reporter from a local newspaper. An article, titled “Whitewood farm a test site for controlling spread of chicory” was published in the Black Hills Pioneer newspaper and posted on the paper’s on-line E-edition on May 1, 2019. The article may be found at “www.bhpioneer.com/local news/whitewood-farm-a-test-site-for-controlling-spread-of-chicory.”
That article and the research information on our website then garnered the attention of our county’s conservation district personnel. As a result, on July 10, 2019, we were notified of our being named the recipient of the 2019 Lawrence County Conservation District Conservation Citizenship Award. The award was presented to us at the local Butte-Lawrence County Fair on August 1st.
Doug and Carol Pavel receiving the 2019 Lawrence County Conservation District Conservation Citizenship Award
Then, because of our connection with the Lawrence County Conservation District, we had the unique opportunity to host a tour for the executive director and a number of biology interns from the Phoenix Conservancy – a non-profit, State of Washington based conservation organization whose mission (according to their website www.phoenixconservancy.org) is “To restore endangered ecosystems globally for the communities that depend on them and the conservation of biodiversity.” This was an enjoyable opportunity to share ideas. We undoubtedly learned more from them than they learned from us.
Members of the Phoenix Conservancy Touring Butte Vista Farm
We also had the opportunity to directly speak with numerous other individuals who visited the farm – some for the specific purpose of learning of our project and others who merely stopped by to visit. We never missed an opportunity to discuss what we are doing through our research. We had also visited with our neighboring producers about our efforts even before the project began. Consequently, many of them have kept in contact with us as well. Through these informal efforts, we had been able to discuss IWM options with a number of people to control weeds on their properties.
There were others we contacted for advice and thoughts on specific issues that we were struggling with – such as controlling chicory in pastures and hayfields using organically accepted methods. The organic IWM methods we were trying did temporarily control the chicory, but the means of doing so seemed far from sustainable. One such organization was the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) – a nonprofit organization, located in Spring Valley, WI. This led us to be put in contact with an organic farmer in Minnesota to discuss and share ideas. In an interesting chain of events, the farmer offered to do some checking with his contacts and get some ideas since most of his efforts involved farming (tillage) of the fields to control the weeds – which was not an ideal option for us considering our land and climate conditions. One of his contacts turned out to be Mr. Paul Johnson (the same person who is our expert advisor). Within moments of his discussion with Mr. Johnson, it was revealed that Paul was very familiar with the issue we talking about because he was directly involved in the project through the herbicide trials. So, the conversation came full circle. Unfortunately, it emphasized the point that little has actually been learned or published on what we were researching in our project. As the Minnesota farmer explained to me, our project appears to be on the leading edge of developing solutions.
All in all, our outreach efforts granted us numerous opportunities to discuss our project. Those efforts will continue in 2020 with emphasis on those areas we recognized as needing additional attention.
Now that we have the first year of our two-year SARE/SDSU Integrated Weed Management (IWM) project under our belt, we can reflect on that we learned, what worked, what didn’t and what we plan to do next year. While we learned many things, three key lessons were realized. Those examples will serve as an outline of the main objectives for next year’s project activity.
Additional information on the points made here, can be gleaned by visiting our website (www.buttevistafarm.com) and reading the individual blogs that covered the information in more detail.
The all-encompassing thought that clearly stood out at the end of this year was the fact that, after many years of working our farm, raising crops, grazing livestock and working to control unwanted weeds, we really thought we knew the basic principles of IWM and, equally importantly, what “sustainability” really means. We now realize that we didn’t truly comprehend either the TOTAL IWM package – that is how the five individual principles work together and, more importantly, how they need to be USED together, or how all the facets of a FULLY sustainable operation fit together.
One of the crucial first-steps in implementing IWM into any operation is doing an assessment of the weed problem. In our Mid-May blog (“How Is IWM Implemented”), we explained how the assessment process is accomplished. At the end of our first year of research, we realized that this first step is far more crucial than just checking the box to say it was done. And, the act of assessing is an ongoing process. We think we’re doing that but in reality, we may not be giving it our full attention. Have you really studied the problem? Have you done any reading about what other growers have experienced? Have you studied other’s research? Do you truly know what family of chemicals will do the job on your specific problem weed? We thought we had – but not really.
When it comes to controlling chicory, as with any plant, it has certain physiological characteristics – that is certain things make it grow or fail to thrive. We found spraying the plant too early or too late can produce poor results. We also found that using goats and cattle to graze the plant too young may also yield poor results. The taste of the young leaves may be too bitter to attract the livestock. It may be difficult to encourage them to eat the weed instead of the tender, early-growth grasses or more tasty plants. We found that waiting until the chicory plant bolts (develops a stem) may actually provide a better chance of controlling it with either chemicals or grazing.
One thing that agricultural producers (and other plant-growing professionals) know when using herbicides is to read the chemical’s label information. Yes – that multi-page document typically glued to the herbicide container that has no shortage of small print, text and charts. It isn’t light reading – but it’s important material. We learned that lesson when we found one chemical in our herbicide trial that didn’t have any effect on the chicory. We had done the research as to what other experts have found to be effective to control chicory and also what was safely used to remove weeds from cultivated chicory WITHOUT harming the chicory. Without going into detail, as noted in our Mid-September blog (under “Chemical IWM” addressing Imazapic classes of herbicides versus Imazamox), we found it important to not only study the safety precautions and application rates, but look at the chemical makeup. One of the chemicals we used was nearly identical in composition as the one used in food plots to protect the chicory. (See the Chemical Trials conclusion below.) A simple lesson to remind us of what we already knew (maybe) – that is herbicides are plant specific. Take the time to FULLY read the instructions.
Each of the five IWM practices (mechanical, chemical, cultural, biological and preventative) has its benefits – and short comings (see more details below in the “Conclusion of the 2019 Project”). Our experience from the first year’s research intentionally focused on one distinct IWM element being tested in a singularly designated plot in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of each of those elements and to find what did and did not work. That goal was a success – we now understand more fully the pros and cons of each IWM element. As mentioned earlier, the success and failures were highlighted in the previously mentioned blogs. We will use those lessons to move forward into next year as we expand our efforts to use the combined IWM principles together on each of the plots.
Along with the objectives of that goal, because we were trying to find weed management options for both conventional and organic producers, unsurprisingly, we found that conventional operators (those whose practices could incorporate chemical options into their programs), had more tools that could be used. We knew that. We also knew there would be more challenges for an organic grower – particularly if they didn’t want to use chemicals AND wanted to avoid tillage (a basic means to control weeds in many organic operations). At the end of this year, it was even clearer to us that organic operations have some serious challenges that must be faced. We have some ideas for next year – and it may actually require further research.
We also found there are objectives and goals that go beyond controlling an unwanted weed. The overall health of an agricultural operation involves more than removing a noxious plant. Things such as soil health, ground cover, field production, profitability and the producer’s quality of life also need consideration.
A powerful lesson we learned this year was realizing the TRUE meaning of “sustainability.” We thought we knew what was meant by the term but quickly realized that, like many folks who routinely cite the term, we didn’t fully know what it meant to the agriculture industry.
In our End-September blog, we addressed “The Question of Sustainability.” In that post, we detailed how each of the principles of IWM employed through our research measured up to the full scope of being sustainable.
In a nutshell, the term “sustainability” frequently gets mentioned when a discussion turns to a person’s belief of whether what someone else is doing is deemed to be environmentally friendly or sound. Using that standard alone when critiquing agriculture, the “environmentally friendly” criterion can determine whether a person perceives an ag producer to be a “good” or “bad” farmer or rancher simply by determining, in the pundit’s opinion, what is ecologically harmless. In other words, in the critic’s view, does the agricultural practice sustain the environment or will it lead to the demise of the world? As we worked through our project, we realized, however, that when the term is narrowly limited to one aspect of the matter – that being the use of natural resources – soil, air, water, plants wildlife (i.e. the earth), it is often forgotten that the ecological aspect is only one crucial part of the bigger “sustainability” issue.
While we were evaluating our project’s efforts, we began questioning whether the methods being used solved a problem or merely created further issues later. Were they cost effective? Could we keep doing them? Were they a benefit to our farm’s bigger picture? Were they “sustainable”?
To better understand the complete meaning of being sustainable, we referred to the SARE website www.sare.org/Learning-Center/SARE-Program-Materials/National-Program-Materials/What-is-Sustainable-Agriculture. There it lists the “3 Pillars of Sustainability”:
• Profit over the long term,
• Stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water and
• Quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities.
The Western SARE website, (https://www.westernsare.org/About-Us/What-is-Sustainable-Agriculture) shared this viewpoint of Dr. John E. Ikerd, Extension Professor at the University of Missouri: “A sustainable agriculture must be economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound. The economic, social and ecological are interrelated, and all are essential to sustainability. An agriculture that uses up or degrades its natural resource base, or pollutes the natural environment, eventually will lose its ability to produce. It’s not sustainable. An agriculture that isn’t profitable, at least over time, will not allow its farmers to stay in business. It’s not sustainable. An agriculture that fails to meet the needs of society, as producers and citizens as well as consumers, will not be sustained by society. It’s not sustainable. A sustainable agriculture must be all three – ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. And the three must be in harmony.”
As our project progressed and each aspect of the Integrated Weed Management principles was applied, we began making a conscious effort to note whether certain efforts match the “3 Pillars of Sustainability.” It behooves us to review that information from time to time – it’ll help keep us focused on why we are doing what we are doing and whether we should continue as we are.
CONCLUSION OF 2019 PROJECT
Our website’s blogs provide more in-depth details of the results of each of the five IWM practices utilized in 2019. Research will continue in each method in 2020. Here is a synopsis of each principle:
Grazing fields and pastures alone without other IWM practices, whether using cattle or goats individually or in a co-species grazing arrangement, can have some effect on controlling chicory – for a time. However, timing is a factor. As mentioned above, if the chicory plants are too young, and because of the naturally bitter taste of the leaves, the livestock will have to be trained to target the weed or grazing may need to be suspended until after the plants bolt – usually a little later in the growing season and at which time the grasses and other more palatable forage varieties are not as attractive. Goats also like to graze plants that are chest-high. So, they generally eat less forage low to the ground (as in young chicory leaves in the rosette stage). Also, because of the adaptive nature of chicory, and as noted below in the “Mechanical (Mowing & Hand-Pulling)” section, the removal of the plant’s flowers merely causes it to adapt and flower lower and lower to the ground. Fortunately, from our experience though, the goats seem to like the taste of the flowers and so they will consume them regardless of how high they are off the ground.
Grazing is not a once-and-done prospect. Livestock may keep the chicory’s growth in check, but given suitable weather conditions, when the livestock are removed, the chicory plant can (and likely will) recover only to re-bolt and set seed-producing flowers once again. As an example, on our farm, we changed the configuration of a pasture that was used to hold goats for seven year (from 2011 – 2018). The goats did a great job of curtailing the growth of the weed during those years. Not that they eliminated the plants, but they kept its growth in check.
But, when the animals were removed in 2018, we had a flourishing crop of chicory in 2019. All the years of naturally fertilizing the pasture, along with decades of previously stored seed in the ground just waiting for that moment to emerge, gave new plants a chance to come to life. We attempted to use mechanical means (rotary mowing to 4” stubble height) to slow the chicory’s growth. However, as further explained below, mowing the areas did little to control the chicory from growing and spreading. Mowing actually appeared to stimulate the plant’s growth, resulting in us having to finally resort to chemical treatments to keep the chicory population from exploding.
These results are pending. The herbicides were applied at different chemical concentrations, and is a mixture equivalent to a rate of 20 gallons of chemical mix per acre. As alluded to above in the “First Lesson” learned, all herbicide types showed results – except one (Plateau – Imazamox). That one has nearly the same chemical makeup as the family of herbicides used in other research to safely remove unwanted weeds from cultivated chicory plots (Imazapic). Evaluating the results further in 2020 will provide us with the information we need to make definitive recommendations. It is hoped that we find one or more herbicides applications that will offer options to us as we attempt to control chicory and other unwanted weeds in fields with broadleaf forages (alfalfa).
We also tested organically acceptable methods of “chemical” control using vinegar and alcohol. We can definitely state, however, that our assessment of the use of vinegar and ethanol to organically control weeds in agriculture fields and pastures produced poor results.
Social media has stories of people using vinegar (and even high-proof rum) to “kill” weeds and other unwanted vegetation in their yards and lawns. Working from those ideas, we wanted to see what happened if we took a concept that appeared to work on small areas and adapt it to larger fields. So, we applied cleaning vinegar (6% Acetic Acid) and 100% ethanol (200 proof) on chicory and other weeds in six test plots. As with the chemical plots, the application rate was equal to 20 gallons of treatment per acre. We then monitored those areas to determine whether those treatments had any noticeable effect on the plants.
While the herbicide plots exhibited definite signs that the chemicals were having an effect on the chicory after even a short period of time, the vinegar and ethanol plots showed absolutely no desirable results. A note here – the stories on social media almost always state that the vinegar must be repeatedly applied to get results. Considering this option from a sustainability view, regularly putting 20 gallons of vinegar (or expensive alcohol) on an acre of a ground without successfully controlling any weeds is simply not advisable.
Plus, we learned, from reading articles about the repeated application processes as described by folks on social media, vinegar is non-selective – in other words, after spraying enough vinegar on the ground (sometimes mixing it with salt) it eventually affects all plants – just like glyphosate and other non-selective herbicides. However, vinegar technically does not “kill” the plants, nor does alcohol. It merely dehydrates them and makes them appear to be dead – as if the plants are subjected to a severe drought. Once the vinegar treatments are suspended, the plants (especially the weeds) grow back.
Another unpleasant fact about vinegar is that if it reaches the soil where there are earthworms present, it also dehydrates the earthworms which, in turn, kills them. Therefore, if a producer is striving toward having healthy soils, removing the earthworms is certainly not a recommended way to do it. In conclusion, we would not recommend using vinegar or alcohol as a means of controlling weeds in ag settings.
The one cultural method used in 2019 was an attempt to plant a cover crop into both chemically treated and non-treated areas of a field to determine if the cover crops could choke out the chicory in the field. Both test areas had the existing plant matter mowed to 8” tall before planting. The results were an utter failure.
We learned that the proper equipment must be utilized – no “cheap” compromises. We used a conventional grain drill in a no-till manner. There was far too much plant material on the ground and consequently the discs of the drill simply could not penetrate deep enough to get the cover crop seed into the soil. We may have been somewhat more successful if we had attempted this process earlier in the year before the plants grew too tall. But there may still be no substitute for a no-till drill in situations in which a vigorous plant community already exists on the ground.
We had also considered attempting to change the mono-culture grass type of another field, infested with chicory and thistles, into a healthier multi-grass-species field. But the lesson learned with the cover crop trials lead us to suspend planting the field until 2020 when we could choose which method of weed control could be used first to reduce competition for the new grass plants.
MECHANICAL (MOWING & HAND-PULLING)
Mowing is one of the most common forms of mechanical IWM. A theory is if a weed is mowed a sufficient number of times, the energy-producing leaves and other plant anatomy is reduced and eventually the plant dies from lack of nutrients. BUT… In doing our reading and research on chicory in preparations to put our grant proposal together, we learned that in the case of cultivated chicory for food plots, to assure a healthy plant population, it was important to regularly mow the plant before it reaches the bolting (and beginning flowering) stage – just as we were doing to CONTROL the weed seed population. We have had chicory on our farm since we purchased the property nearly 20 years ago. In that time, we have regularly mowed the weed to keep it from flowering and producing more seeds but without much noticeable reduction in the chicory infestation. Research gives us a clue as to why.
There are some key points about chicory’s behavior that we have personally learned through our experience and from this project’s research that should be considered by anyone when developing a weed control program.
First – chicory is a member of the dandelion family (imagine it to be the overgrown cousin of common dandelions and what efforts have to be taken to control that in your lawn). As with its smaller cousin, mowing results in new stems forming in a short amount of time. The flowers aren’t far behind.
Second – chicory propagates from both seeds and existing plants. So, it is not enough to control the seed population, the existing living plant population needs to be reduced as well. Research states that a chicory plant will live two years. However, research also points out that given ideal growing conditions (moisture, stimulation, fertilization, etc.) the plants may live seven years or longer.
Third – the plant is very adaptive to physical stimuli. A young plant will typically grow to 12” or 24” tall before it initially flowers. However, after repeated being mowed or grazed (as noted above), the plant develops flowers at lower and lower heights until the flowers actually form at ground level –still producing viable seeds. As a result, in order to control the chicory flowers, the plant (and all the accompanying plants – i.e. grasses potentially being grown for forage or grazing) must be repeatedly mowed during the growing season – at progressively lower cutting heights.
We tried mowing test plots in a pasture at varying heights (using a rotary mower) – at 3”, 6”, 9” and 12”. The lowest cutting obviously removed the greatest number of flowers but also substantially reduced the available forage for the cattle. Using a rotary mower chops the residue. The cattle weren’t enthusiastic about eating the cuttings since other living forage was available, especially younger, tender plants that the taller material covered up but were exposed by mowing. The 9” and 12” heights, although leaving more forage, developed new flowers quicker than the shorter cutting heights. Re-cutting was necessary – and at a lower cutting height. The 6” cutting showed some promising results and may be a good compromise between weed control and forage retention. However, while the flowers were controlled, the plant population was not. We will repeat these trials in 2020 and monitor whether the chicory has spread any further and observe the livestock’s grazing habits. Mowing may still be a viable option if included with other IWM practices.
Test Plots Rotary Mowed at Varying Heights
Fourth – as we have observed, because chicory has tap roots (capable of reaching deep into the ground), the chicory is able to remain strong and can recover in adverse (dry) weather conditions, even when mowed. However, the grasses that are also continuously mowed soon exhibit signs of distress – especially in dry conditions – because their shallow-natured root development is hampered by the constant removal of the above-ground plant matter, reducing the chance for grasses to develop deeper, thicker roots.
In short, we have seen very little long-term weed control success with mowing. Once mowed, it takes only a short time for the plant to regrow to the bolting stage and, to prevent the flowers’ seed from maturing, the chicory plant and everything around it must be mowed again – and again – and again. And it returns to live yet another day. The photos below reflect how chicory grows – from pre-mowed (photo on left), mowed (two center photos) and nine days later (far right).
As noted in our September 30, 2019 blog dealing specifically with the “Question of Sustainability”, it might be argued that mowing can be deemed “environmentally friendly.” However, if the yield potential of the forage from the farm’s and ranch’s fields and pastures is curtailed because the desirable plants are constantly being cut off, profitability (and long-term sustainability) will soon suffer. Lawns and gardens may not be as profit-critical. But hayfields and pastures are a different story.
Finally, as shown in the photos below, hand-pulling chicory from a field is an option in certain circumstances. In order to allow us to market the hay from a field that was slightly infected with chicory, and to assure we did not spread chicory from our place, we did hand-pull chicory from the field. Again – that’s certainly “environmentally friendly” and in this particular case, the chicory plant population was low enough to allow us to take the time and labor to pull it AND physically remove the plants from the field. Plus, the field was only four acres. However, it would be neither profitable nor reasonably possible to repeatedly remove a heavy population of chicory from a large field.
At this point, we would be reluctant to recommend mechanical IWM means alone as a sustainable way to control chicory – especially in a larger agricultural setting. But still, in 2020, we will use this principle of IWM in combination with other IWM practices to try to develop an all-encompassing weed management program.
The primary prevention step we take on our farm is refusing to market any chicory-infested hay harvested on our farm. We are fortunate in that we can feed this hay to our own livestock and, because the bulk of the hay is fed during the winter time when the animals spend more time in their barns, we can control where they are pastured after eating the hay and take care of re-infestation if it happens. Similarly, the manure from the animals is composted to aid in reducing viable seed as well. Even so, we only apply infested manure on fields where we are not reluctant to use chemical control.
Another action we take is in cases of harvesting a field with a heavy population of the plant, we will clean machinery before moving to a non-infested field. In short, we have put forth our best efforts to assure that we don’t intentionally allow chicory to spread beyond our property.
MOVING FORWARD INTO 2020
The project may be wrapped up for 2019 but it is far from being complete. The year 2020 will not be the conclusion of the project’s efforts either. Controlling unwanted weeds is a never-ending task. We now have a great amount of data and newly-gained experience to study, assess and utilize to develop a plan for the 2020 research. It looks to be exciting!
While we haven’t fully developed next year’s project goals and objectives, we can certainly give a taste of what we are contemplating.
We have intentionally been rather limited on documenting the results for a reason. The use of chemicals is not just a one-year proposition. As we have already learned, many of the chemicals we used in the plots provided some quick results. But, as anyone who has used weed killers knows, the real results come when it can be determined whether there was any long-lasting desirable effect. Will the chicory plant rebound next year? Will new seeds still sprout and does the producer have to start the spraying process all over again? Were certain chemicals effective longer term – resulting in less chemical actually having to be put into the soil? Is there a chemical option available to remove the chicory from a hay field but not cause severe harm to the desirable forage – such as the alfalfa? These are some of the key points we will be studying in our 2020 research.
MULTIFACETED IWM PROGRAM
As previously mentioned, in 2019 we focused on using one IWM technique on each particular test plot or area. Now that we know how the five IWM techniques work independently, and having a better idea of the strength and weaknesses of each, we can join them together to approach weed control from a comprehensive, multi-practice approach. In 2020, we will use multiple IWM methods on each test plot to control weeds from many angles at once – somewhat of a one-two-three punch approach.
For example, a trial we have originally considered as part of the project and plan to incorporate in 2020 is grazing (biological means) within a plot to weaken the weeds and then applying a low-dose herbicide (chemical means) to eliminate them, followed by seeding a plant species that can be a friendly companion to the desired plant community already in place (cultural approach). Thereby we will be taking an unhealthy, weed-infested environment and turning it into a more biodiverse one that is healthier and, hopefully, will be more resistant to a future chicory infestation.
Another plan is to define a buffer area on the outer perimeter of our property in which chemical measures can be utilized to control chicory without the concern of collaterally damaging other broadleaf forage (such as alfalfa). Our hope is if we can contain the chicory to a narrower outer band of pasture and hay ground that has more grasses and less legumes (making chemical applications more feasible), OR finding a chemical treatment that allows us to control the chicory with minimal undesirable effect on the broad leaf forages, we can contain the spread of chicory to those areas and keep it from moving further onto our farm (preventative measure). Then, we can eventually get the interior of our farm chicory-free and thus reduce the use of herbicides overall. As of 2019, we have nearly accomplished that goal but we need to take additional measures to minimize the encroachment of chicory from areas outside of our control onto our property. If the herbicide trials provide us with a chemical alternative that eliminates the chicory but doesn’t severely affect legumes (there are a couple of herbicides that actually looked promising in 2019 but it’s too early for concrete results) we will have even more options for the buffer areas.
These trials may also move us closer to developing alternatives for organic producers which is still on our list of objectives
Now that we have a better idea of the “bigger picture”, we plan to dig deeper into researching and demonstrating alternative methods to getting things done.
For example, the soil testing we did in 2019 showed us that we are definitely on the right track to having very healthy soils – with the tests showing high levels of organic matter, great soil structure, awesome infiltration rates, healthy population of earthworms and so forth. But there is one field that gives us reason for concern. This particular hayfield (located on the outer edge of our farm) has had a high population of chicory as well as a less-than-desirable, mono-culture grass community. We have, on several occasions, intentionally omitted this field for harvest as we did not want to risk spreading the chicory to other areas. We have subjected the field to chemical applications but the plant (grass) population is such that the ground cover is poor and the chicory (as well as thistles) always seem to get re-established. The field has a high, underground water table limiting the type of plants that can survive long-term. We know from previous experience that tilling the ground to remove undesirable plant species will only propagate an explosion of weeds. No-till practices to incorporate another plant type may be an obvious option, but the soil structure is concerning. This provides us with a situation to try some innovation.
Our plan in 2020 is to, as mentioned above, use a multifaceted IWM approach. One option is we have selected a grass variety that has a better chance of surviving a wetter environment. However, we didn’t want to plant it in the fall of 2019 because of the presence of chicory. Therefore, one plan for this field for 2020 is to start out by applying an appropriate type of herbicide to eliminate any chicory or thistles. We will then increase the organic matter in the soil by applying aged manure we have available from our livestock. We will then spread or no-till the new grass seed onto the field – depending upon field conditions.
Another test option for this field may be to remove all plant growth through the use of glyphosate and no-till plant oats for a year or two with periodic chemical treatments to get the weeds completely under control. That portion of the field will then be reseedied into an appropriate variety of grass and broadleaf forage. A cover crop could be no-till planted into the oats stubble after harvesting the oats to assure a continuous living-root environment for the soil microbes.
We are considering other approaches as well. Some may even be seen as a bit “unconventional.”
We have been reading about using livestock to graze a field coincident with seeding of grass, cover crop or small grains, during which time the action of the livestock walking (hoof action) acts in a similar fashion to a “No-till” drill. Grass and legume seeds need only to have soil contact – not deep planting. Oats can emerge in a similar manner. In 2020 we are giving consideration to the idea of doing a brief study on this subject. We are researching the idea of re-seeding a field that has an infestation of chicory and a poor stand of grasses. Our idea is to first use glyphosate to remove the existing vegetation. We will consult with our expert advisors to determine a safe time to pass between spraying and grazing. After that time, seed will be spread onto the field and the cattle will be placed in that location to graze the plant residue. Research will then be done to determine the percentage of germination of new plants resulting from their hoof action working the seed into the ground. If the use of glyphosate is not allowed, we may consider treating the field with an appropriate herbicide to remove the undesirable weeds but not kill the grass. The same approach would be used but the cattle would then have live plant matter to eat instead of standing residue. Will it work? We’ll find out.
It has been an exciting year and we’re looking forward to next year. Stayed tuned with the activities on our farm on our website and Facebook page. There are some things in the works beyond this SARE/SDSU project (hint: more conservation efforts involving many different aspects of wildlife habitat, water quality, forest management and the list goes on). Join us on Facebook and our website for all the latest.
At the end of the first year of the project, as mentioned earlier in the outreach and education section, merely taking steps to study the control of chicory itself can be termed a success. Over and over this past year it has been apparent from us speaking with ag professionals and producers that there is a lack of studies (especially verifiable studies) on specifically controlling the chicory weed. Our conversations indicate that the invasive nature of the plant seems to be demanding more attention than in recent years. The causes of how the weed is spreading is really unknown to us but, more and more awareness is arising to the detrimental impact allowing the plant to grow uncontrolledly is having. It was exciting for us to share what we are learning with the people we have spoken to and to see the anticipation from producers and professionals as we gather more and more data through the research.
Much more work can be done on adapting organically acceptable practices in arid regions such as ours – especially without resorting to conventional tillage or “farming” techniques used by organic producers in regions that receive more rainfall. An ag operation doesn’t necessarily need to be organically certified to utilize organic practices. Anytime IWM can be successfully accomplished with less dependence on chemicals, there are advantages gained – especially given the current public feeling toward the use of pesticides. At the end of our first year, we don’t have clear recommendations to give to organic producers. While we will focus on this issue in 2020, more work will certainly be needed.
Another study that could be considered for further research is using livestock as “no-till drills” to work seed into the ground while grazing an area. In 2020 we are giving consideration to the idea of doing a brief study on this subject. Depending on the results in 2020, more research may be considered to fine-tune the process.