Evaluation of Scale-Appropriate Weed Control Tools for the Small Farm
Small-scale farmers are in great need of scale-appropriate weed management tools. In this project we imported from Finland the Weed Master #174;, an innovative set of cultivation and flame-weeding equipment, designed and built by a team of Finnish small-scale organic farmers. This is the first unit to be imported to North America. Farmers have been generally impressed. Our on-farm field evaluations, as well as a replicated comparison with widely-available weeding tools indicates that efficacy of weed control with the Weed Master is equal to hand weeding, hoeing or using a wheel hoe, but 60% to many times more efficient when working time is considered. The dramatically greater working speed translates directly into dollars saved weeding, and offers growers opportunity to cultivate several times to achieve a high level of weed control if necessary.
During the PI’s recent sabbatical in Denmark, he collaborated with Europe’s leading weed scientists in the area of physical and cultural weed management and was introduced to an innovative set of improvements to the old “wheel hoe” idea, incorporating two wheels, a tool bar, and lightweight cultivator attachments, some of which have a parallel-linkage design. This collection of tools is the first transfer of physical weed control technologies, including sweeps, rolling disks, finger and torsion weeders, from the tractor tool bars of larger farms, to a hand tool appropriate for a farmer of 4 acres or less.
Two notable features of this tool represent real innovation in this otherwise vintage implement. First, using two wheels and a scaled-down toolbar provides lateral stability and adjustment flexibility, e.g., to cultivate both sides of a crop row, that is generally not possible using a traditional wheel-hoe. Second, lightweight parallelograms offer precise depth control, and thus the opportunity to optimize soil movement (weed control) and draft or effort required to push the implement.
Physical weed control is a topic of great interest to Maine organic growers. A session offered by the PI in November, 2007 (“Innovations in Physical Weed Control,” 3 November 2007, Bethel, Maine) drew an audience of sixty, mostly growers. It was the considerable interest among growers at this meeting that motivated purchase of the equipment and this proposal. Notable was the sentiment that while the equipment looked very appealing, few, if any, would risk the investment without first trying one on their farm, or at least hearing what another grower with first-hand experience thought of the tools.
Supported by a grant from the Maine Agriculture Center, in the fall of 2008 we recently purchased a Weed Master® from Petri Leinonen of Elomestari Oy Ltd. of Kukkola, Finland (http://personal.inet.fi/yritys/elomestari/english/english.htm). In November of 2008 we received shipment of a frame, goosefoot how, finger weeder, rolling disk hoe, broadcast flamer and row flamer, which, including freight, totaled $5,190. Notable in regard to price is that Mr. Leinonen recognizes the problems associated with the strength of the U.S. dollar and high costs of shipping and is interested is opportunities to develop a “license-to-build” arrangement with a U.S. manufacturer, an opportunity that could be very exciting for a small Maine machine and metal fabrication facility.
We propose to demonstrate the equipment on three Maine farms, and then allow the farmer-evaluators to use the equipment over a period of at least 2 weeks. Their detailed evaluations will (i) form the basis for a Fact Sheet on Scale-Appropriate Weed Control Tools, and (ii) will be presented at a conference for organic farmers. In these ways we will ensure that their experiences are shared with other farmers.
In addition to the grower testimonials, we will evaluate the efficacy of the various cultivation tools in comparison to the farmers’ standard method(s).
The Maine Agricultural Center supported purchase of this equipment. We leveraged this funding into a $9,236 NESARE Partnership Project and have (i) evaluated the equipment on three diversified organic vegetable farms; (ii) demonstrated the equipment at the Maine Agricultural Trades Show, a UMCE field day in southern Maine, at a MOFGA Apprentice Summer Meeting Field Day at the Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, and at MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair; (iii) explored an innovative mechanism for sharing results through a research blog (see: gallandt.wordpress.com), which, since launching in May, 2009, has had 1,088 visitors, with 68 on the busiest day, July 28, 2009, shortly after an article in the MOF&G featuring the demonstration at the Peacemal Farm; (iv) and have developed a new YouTube Channel, “Zeroseedrain” (http://www.youtube.com/user/zeroseedrain) which features our preliminary evaluations of the Weed Master (126 and 92 views as of 10/1/2009 for our two videos. Lastly, in concluding our MAC project and the related NESARE Partnership project, we will host a session on weed control tools for the small farm at the 2009 UMCE / MOFGA Farmer to Farmer Conference during which the lead PI and the participating farmers will summarize our experiences with these tools.
The promising results to date have led to discussions with personnel at the Innovations Center, a machine shop owner in Charleston, Maine, and the head of tools and equipment for Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We are hopeful that a business strategy can be developed to commercialize this equipment to make it more affordable for farmers on North America. At present, the cost of importing the tools from Finland has been considered too expensive by most growers, at least for some of the less technical parts (e.g., the frame and wheels). Petri Leinonen, the Finnish farmer and owner of the company selling the Weed Master has enthusiastically endorsed this initiative.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Three Maine farms evaluated the Weed Master, a set of manual weeding implements scaled appropriately for a manually-pushed tool bar. Purchased with support from the Maine Agricultural Center, and evaluated during the 2009 growing season with support from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Partnership Grant Program, this is the first set of tools to be imported to North America. Although the tools alone will not solve their weed problems, most growers have been impressed with the intuitive adjustment of the tools and fast working rates. Compared to a traditional wheel hoe at 3 minutes per 100 foot of row, the Weed Master took less than a minute (hand weeding took 21 minutes). Weed control was generally similar among the various methods. Farmers will share their experiences with these and other hand tools at the Farmer-to-Farmer Conference, sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and University of Maine Cooperative Extension (November 6-8, 2009).
- Broadcast flaming with the Weed Master, Peacemeal Farm, 2009
- Comparing the Weed Master to a wheel hoe and stirrup hoe, Peacemeal Farm, 2009
- Testing the Weed Master with Finger Weeders, Fisher Farm, 2009
- Clayton Carter, Fail Better Farm, demonstrates the Weed Master to MOFGA Apprentices, 2009
- For more information about on-farm trials see the project blog at: gallandt.wordpress.com
- Testing the Weed Master with disk hillers on leeks (in rather poor weather!), Wolf Pine Farm, Maine, 2009
- Russell Libby, Executive Director of MOFGA and Mark Guzzi, Peacemeal Farm, 2009 (photo: Mike Mardosa)
Associate Professor of Weed Ecology and Management
25 Peacemeal Lane
Dixmont, ME 04932
Office Phone: 2072574103