Report for FS05-196
The purpose of this proposal is to address a problem caused by increasingly dry, long, hot summers in East Texas. Soils in this area are generally sandy loam. The soils are well suited to the crops (watermelons, peas, sweet corn and squash) that are grown by many limited resource small farmers. Most all of these growers utilize chemical and/or mechanical weed control methods. However with the gradual loss of organic matter from the soils, the soil’s drought tolerance is diminishing. This lack of drought tolerance can leave a producer critically vulnerable in a dry growing season, thereby threatening the sustainability of his (her) operation. The average small farmer in this area works with fields of about 10 to 40 acres. Some producers have had success with the use of plastic barrier applied between rows for weed control. The primary drawback to this option is the added step of raking up the plastic at the end of the harvest to prevent any detrimental effects on the environment. My proposal is to conduct trials on two separate farms to demonstrate the environmental and economic benefits of using paper, a biodegradable and abundant alternative to plastic, for barrier style weed control. These trials will consist of side by side comparisons on each farm of each of these three different alternatives (mechanical, plastic barrier and paper barrier). There are two classes of paper to test. The first is linerboard, which is relatively rigid and durable. It is available in densities ranging from 33#/MSF to 69#/MSF. The other class is corrugating medium, which is relatively absorbent and has memory, in that it will more readily hold its shape when formed. It is available in densities ranging from 26#/MSF to 36#/MSF. Trials will be conducted to determine which class and density best achieves the goals of providing a barrier to prevent the growth of competing foliage for a period of four weeks after application and then blending easily into the soil when disked in after a period of 90-100 days in the elements.