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

    Proposal abstract:

    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. Conventional growers face increasing pressures to reduce herbicide use and organic farmers often rely on expensive hand-weeding to manage weeds in the crop row. Effective strategies for managing in-row weeds, including new cultivation tools and weed-competitive crop cultivars are increasingly crucial to healthy farms. 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. The following project objectives were identified by speaking with many Midwestern vegetable farmers: 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   A farm trial will be conducted and 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.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    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.