- Pest Management: weed ecology
Problem or Opportunity and Justification
Weed management has long been one of the most challenging production-related issues for organic farmers, but due to increasingly variable weather, labor shortages, and herbicide resistant weeds, New York farmers of all types are struggling with weed management. Even in competitive crops, uncontrolled weeds can reduce yields by half. As a result, local educational events on weed management have been packed with attendees. Several recent polls of vegetable farmers showed that finding new solutions to weed management was their highest priority. Our recent project with conventional field crop farmers found that 97% of evaluation respondents intend to try a new management tactic due to their increasing difficulties with weeds. Clearly, the increasing challenges with weed management have created an opportunity to promote new, effective solutions.
We have also fielded hundreds of questions from farmers about how to improve control of individual weed species. And our answers depend on the biology of the weed. When does it emerge? When does it start flowering? What is the seed viability? This type of knowledge is essential for adjusting management to disadvantage key species. Several of the project key personnel have contributed to this extensive body of knowledge. But unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” solution for weed management as every farm has a unique set of weeds and available management tools.
Solution and Approach
We hope to address this critical challenge by providing weed management solutions that are tailored to the needs of individual farmers. Specifically, we will work with 50 New York farmers of all types to analyze their weed seedbanks – meaning all of the weed species present in the soil (in seeds, and for the purposes of this project, perennial rootstock as well) – so that we can help determine a management plan that utilizes the tools available to each farmer to address the entire suite of weeds, rather than just those that are problematic in a given year. Seedbank results and management recommendations will be provided to each farmer in a written report and the project leader will follow up to help fine-tune the recommendations to match the interests of each farmer. The reports will be publicized to 500 additional farmers to provide examples of farms using their available tools to target “Achilles heels” of weeds.
Our research component is not critical to project success but has the potential to further strengthen our tailored weed management recommendations through increased understanding of how seedbank depletion may be expedited using soil fertility, superheating, fungal enzymes, or herbicide resistance management. Finally, we will use phone-based evaluations to assess the degree of adoption and monetary impact of improved weed seedbank management.
Performance targets from proposal:
50 New York farmers of all types of crops will directly participate in this project. Eighty percent of the participants will deplete their weed seedbanks based on the biology of the species present, thereby reducing weed emergence on 1,500 acres. Starting in Year 3, this will result in a combined increase in net profit of $50,000 per year due to a combination of improved yields and reduced weed management costs. An additional 50 farmers learning from the project via other means will indicate their intention to improve weed seedbank management on an additional 2,000 acres.