Best Sustainable Management Practices For Perennial Weeds

Final Report for LNC07-282

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $144,003.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Dan Anderson
University of Illinois
Co-Coordinators:
John Masiunas
University of Illinois
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Project Information

Summary:

Resources were developed and posted on-line providing the latest research-based information on management of selected perennial weeds in sustainable and organic systems. A mini-grant program was developed to recruit farmers in Illinois and surrounding states needing to apply new integrated methods for perennial weed control. Seven farmers participated in 2008, 15 in 2009 and 13 in 2010. The farms produced a variety of crops including pasture, grains, and vegetables generally with minimal herbicides. The farmers who properly implemented the integrated thistle management system reported excellent control. Resources and farmer results are posted on the ASAP organic website. Presentations were made at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, IL Specialty Growers Conference, and the Midwest Organic Conference.

Introduction:

Perennial weeds are a particular challenge for organic and sustainable farmers who desire to limit or eliminate chemical inputs to the system. Work was done with Bicksler and Masiunas to develop a set of practices which employed a “many little hammers” approach to controlling perennial weeds without chemical inputs. The approach utilizes timely tillage and mowing, coupled with a warm-season grass cover crop.

Bicksler and Masiunas used Canada thistle as a model weed to test different strategies, and sorghum-sudangrass as the warm-season cover crop. In the greenhouse and research plot, the approach showed promise. Our project took what was learned and tested it with real farmers. The principles and methods were taught to nearly 40 participating farmers in four Midwestern states over three years. Those farmers now have a tool for managing perennial weeds without the use of chemical agents.

Project Objectives:

Our project increased farmer, Extension Educator, and scientist knowledge of key times during the life cycle of perennial weeds when the weeds are most susceptible to control. It also improved knowledge of how sustainable management strategies can suppress perennial weeds. This was accomplished through on-line fact sheets, reports, presentations at farmer meetings, participatory on-farm research, farmer-to-farmer communication, and project participant co-learning. These outputs improved Extension, scientist, and farmer awareness of how integrated approaches can be used to manage difficult-to-control perennial weeds in sustainable and organic systems. Through workshops, field days, and our mini-grant program we shared with farmers the results of our on-farm testing of research-based, chemical-free, thistle management practices. Each year, different farmers practiced skills that integrated tillage, mowing, cover crops, allelopathy and enhanced biocontrol to suppress perennial weeds. In the intermediate-term sustainable and organic farmers should be able to prevent, or if necessary, successfully control perennial weeds using best management practices for their cropping system. Our project will, in the intermediate term, change farmer, Extension, and scientist behavior and attitudes toward managing perennial weeds. Our audience was sustainable and organic farmers along with Extension educators. We measured success through direct farmer feedback during summer farm visits by the project coordinator.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dan Anderson
  • Duane Baker
  • Henry Brockman
  • David Campbell
  • Adam Davis

Research

Materials and methods:

Farmer participants were recruited using a mini-grant program developed specifically for this project. An on-line survey form (internal Illinois Extension) software was used to develop an application page for the mini-grant program. The program was promoted via meetings along with electronic and print media. Together with our three-member farmer advisory team, applications were reviewed and participants were chosen based on their perennial weed problem, location, farm size, and type of operation. We attempted to identify a varied mix of farm types and sizes. All Illinois farmer participants were located in the Northern half of the state. We also worked with farmers in Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Resource packets were compiled and sent to all participating farmers. These provided background information on perennial weeds and the research upon which our strategies were based. On-line versions of the resource packet were also developed and posted on the ASAP Organic Page (http://asap.sustainability.uiuc.edu/). Farms were visited early in the season so the presence of growing perennial weeds could be verified and identified. During the first farm visit, the control strategies were explained, and a plan devised in partnership with the farmer. The most prominent perennial weed was Canada thistle.

The integrated approach we advised for Canada thistle was generally as follows:
1) multiple tillage or mowing of the weed patch
2) final thorough tillage of thistle patch in early June
3) heavy planting of sterile sorghum sudangrass cover crop
4) mowing of sudangrass cover at 4 to 6 feet tall
5) allow sudangrass to tiller and regrow
6) final mowing in late Fall or leave standing cover until Spring

A second farm visit was instituted 2009 and 2010 to verify farmer cooperators complied with the plan and also observe how well the thistle was controlled. Pictures were taken and results from each farm posted on the ASAP website.

Research results and discussion:

Work Accomplished:

1. Increased farmer, Extension Educator, and scientist knowledge of key times during the life cycle of perennial weeds when the weeds are most susceptible to control…improve knowledge of how sustainable management strategies can suppress perennial weeds.

Fact sheets have been developed and posted on-line for Canada Thistle and Quackgrass. These, along with additional resources were printed and compiled for distribution to participating farmers. New Ag Network (NAN) articles were written containing the latest research-based information on perennial weed management. NAN materials are available on-line for farmers and Extension personnel at: http://new-ag.msu.edu/Home/tabid/37/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/87/Canada-thistle-biology-Knowing-your-enemy.aspx

2. Provide farmers with the skills to integrate tillage, mowing, cover crops, allelopathy and enhanced bio-control to suppress perennial weeds.

At the beginning of 2008, working with our three-member farmer advisory team, a mini-grant program was developed to recruit at least eight farmers to participate. The mini-grant offered $500 to participating farmers — $250 up front, and $250 upon completion of the on-farm trial. Twenty farmers applied for the mini-grant program in 2008. With the help of our farmer advisors, eight participating farmers were chosen. The process was repeated in 2009 and 2010. Over 20 applicants applied both years. Some farmers participated more than one year. In both years we started the growing season with approximately 20 participants. Each year, farmers dropped out for various reasons. In 2009, 15 farmers finished the project and were compensated for their participation. In 2010, 13 farmers completed participation.

Once chosen, participating farmers were sent a resource packet, and contacted by phone to discuss in detail their operations and perennial weed problems. Each farm was then visited by a project coordinator, sometimes accompanied by a farmer advisor. Together, the participating farmer and project coordinator chose suitable sites and devised an integrated management plan that included practices such as timed tillage, mowing, and short-season, annual cover crops, for perennial weeds present on the farm.

In 2008, a follow-up phone conversation with the participating farmers revealed that four of the eight were able to follow through with the plan and report results of their efforts. Only these four received the second $250 payment. In 2009 and 2010, a second farm visit was added to verify that participating farmers had tried the management strategies and to gauge the effectiveness on thistle control at each site.

Results varied, but in general, farmers who closely followed the management plan and planted the sudangrass cover crop before mid-June reported excellent control of Canada thistle during the growing season.

3. Improve Extension, scientist, and farmer awareness of how integrated approaches approach can be used to manage difficult-to-control perennial weeds.

Presentations were made at the Illinois Specialty Growers Convention, the 2009 Midwest Organic Production and Marketing Conference, and the 2010 MOSES Organic Farming Conference. Two field days were held in 2009, both featured organic farms. Perennial weed management was discussed at these events. A total of at least 130 farmers, advisors, and Extension personnel attended these events.

Work Left to do:

1. Measure success through a follow-up survey of participating farmers.

Research conclusions:

With help from our three-member advisory team, we improved our program for recruiting farmers, effectively communicating the perennial weed control practices, and following up results. The vast majority of the participating farmers who completed work reported positive results, controlling perennial weeds. Perennial weeds are especially challenging for sustainable and organic farmers who are unable or unwilling to use chemical herbicides. The techniques used in this project were developed in greenhouse and research fields. These same techniques have now been demonstrated to be successful in helping farmers manage this formerly intractable problem. The techniques, reduce the need for heavy tillage, provide cover for soil during times of vulnerability, increase soil organic matter and provide farmers with an effective tool for controlling perennial weeds. A core number of farmers in Illinois and surrounding states have now become proficient with the techniques. Other farmers and Extension personnel can now see real results on-line, and study the concepts. Adoption should spread across the Midwest, and the benefits will accrue exponentially.

Farmer Adoption

The farmer participants were very pleased with the results of the perennial weed management regime. Regular adoption was discussed with participating farmers. Those farmers were aware that they now possess a tool for perennial weed management that can be incorporated into their rotations. Broader adoption is not known at this time.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Outreach:

Presentations were made at the Illinois Specialty Growers Convention, the 2009 Midwest Organic Production and Marketing Conference.

Two field days were held in 2009, both featured organic farms. Perennial weed management was discussed at these events. A total of at least 130 farmers, advisors, and Extension personnel attended these events.

In 2010, a presentation was given at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference. Project information was also presented at the organic transition session of Organic University.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Long-term impact on perennial weed control is still not fully understood. Observed control was estimated at 90+% on farms where the practices were properly implemented. Perennial weeds will return over time. It is not known how often a farmer with heavy infestation would have to repeat the practices to maintain economically acceptable levels of control.

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.