Green Tools: Improving Sustainability by Integrating New In-Row Cultivation Equipment and Competitive Cultivars

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2016: $11,994.00
Projected End Date: 04/02/2018
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Daniel Brainard
Michigan State University

Information Products


  • Vegetables: carrots


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Pest Management: cultural control, physical control, cultivation
  • Production Systems: general crop production


    Problem -

    The continually growing demand for vegetables is benefiting farms in the North Central region, where Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are three of the top vegetable producers in the country. As tender crops, often the greatest expense in vegetable production is weed control, especially within the crop row. The ways that weeds are managed greatly affects sustainability and profitability. There are several tools for in-row cultivation, some newly introduced from Europe. Midwestern growers have reported high satisfaction with these new in-row tools for certain crops under certain circumstances, sometimes resulting in huge reductions in labor costs. While these tools show great promise, many uncertainties and gaps in knowledge hinder adoption and effective use by growers.

    Objectives - 

    Determine the growth stages of both crop and weed where each tool is most effective Determine which weed species are best controlled by each tool Learn whether certain combinations of cultivators are more effective than individual tools Identify which tool offers the biggest net savings to farmers Identify carrot cultivars that are suited to mechanical cultivation  

    The most promising in-row cultivation tools evaluated by cultivating carrots. In the process carrot cultivars will be screened for ability to compete against weeds and tolerance to mechanical cultivation. The strengths and limitations of these in-row cultivators will be judged by collecting a wide range of weed and crop survival data. Farmer participation is paramount - tools will be trialed on two nearby farms and we will confer with two expert Consulting Farmers throughout the season. This project will generate useful, farm tested, and detailed observations on the best methods and tools for managing in-row weeds.  It will also build on work being done to identify competitive carrot cultivars. This information will be shared with growers and extension educators through field-days, presentations, conferences, an extension publication, and articles. We will evaluate this outreach through follow-up phone calls and surveys in order to track our ultimate goal of enhancing profitability by improving mechanical weed control on the many North Central region vegetable farms.

    Results - 

    In-row tools can substantially reduce hand-weeding costs for both small and large vegetable growers. Even tender crops at young growth stages can withstand these tools if they are used properly (we used them on 25 day old carrot with 1 true-leaf). For these tools to work it is essential that the crop be larger than the weeds and that the seedbed have been well-prepared. 

    The finger weeder appears to work primarily by breaking the capillarity in the row so that the weed roots cannot draw water, and by hilling soil to cover in-row weeds. The finger weeder also worked better in moister soil. The torsion weeder appears to work by uprooting weeds and needs to be set very shallowly (half inch). The torsion worked better in drier soil.

    Hilling (even with traditional sweeps) to bury weeds can be a great in-row weeding tool.    

    We found some evidence that certain cultivars of carrots are more cultivation-tolerant than others - due to larger roots at the time of cultivation certain cultivars showed greater tolerance to those tools that work by uprooting. However our results are not conclusive enough to make recommendations to growers, only to suggest further research.   

    Farmers are finding success with these in-row tools, the most difficult part is mounting these in-row tools onto existing tractors and toolbars.  

    Please see our youtube channel for videos of interviews with European farmers and tool manufacturers, and videos describing these in-row tools, and what we learned about how best to use them - MSU Mechanical Weed Control -


    Project objectives:

    By generating detailed results on in-row cultivators and carrot cultivars our research will enhance production and profitability on vegetable farms via improved weed control and reduced herbicide use. We will generate and clearly present information on which in-row cultivating tools are best suited to a farmer’s conditions (soil type, crop, prevalent weeds). We will provide an economic analysis for each tool and tool combination so that a farmer can do the math and decide whether one of these tools will pay for itself under their specific conditions. This project will also generate results supporting concurrent research showing the competitive differences between carrot cultivars.

    Learning Outcomes –

    1. Growers and extension educators are aware of the different in-row tools available and international educational resources
    2. Growers and extension educators understand the strengths and limitations of each cultivator and how best to match specific cultivators to crop growth-stage, weed species, and soil type
    3. Growers and extension educators understand the importance of cultivar selection for competitiveness and mechanical cultivation
    4. Growers have the tools necessary to calculate pay-off times for different cultivators

    Action Outcomes - 

    1. Growers apply project’s economic results to their own farms to see how different in-row cultivators pay for themselves
    2. Growers use in-row cultivators in more tender crops and/or younger crops than they have previously
    3. Growers buy in-row tools and use them successfully to lower weed pressure
    4. Mechanical in-row cultivation drastically reduces weeding costs, herbicide use, and increases profitability


    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.