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Featured Resource: Manage Weeds on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

How does weed management and suppression fit into your soil health-building regimen? USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education's (SARE) recent publication Manage Weeds on Your Farm: A Guide to Ecological Strategies is an excellent resource to add to your soil health toolkit. The authors emphasize the power of observation, the importance of walking and knowing your fields, and that "overall ecological weed management is knowledge-intensive, rather than input-intensive."


The four core soil health principles (i.e., keep the soil covered, minimize soil disturbance, maximize living roots, and energize with diversity), along with understanding the biology and behavior of problem weeds in your fields, are part of the knowledge base and foundational starting points for suppressing, managing, and possibly eliminating weeds. Keeping and maximizing soil cover through a strong grass sward and dense canopy of plants can limit the opportunities for weed seeds to get established and germinate. A thick stand of grass, legumes, and growing crops can also create enough competition for water and sunlight to crowd out or make it difficult for weeds to thrive.


Minimizing soil disturbance physically, chemically, and biologically is another good step for weed management. Often, there may already be a seed bank of weed seed on or below the surface of the soil. Soil disturbance and disruption of the subsurface can bring the weed seeds to the surface and possibly create a favorable open environment for the seeds to grow and thrive. Similarly, maximizing living roots is important so plants can utilize available water and nutrient resources to withstand weed pressure and provide counter pressure for the space weeds are challenging to occupy in the landscape. Rye and other winter cereal grains, for example, along with sorghum and sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, lablab bean, rapeseed, buckwheat, and subterranean clover, are known to have allelopathic and weed-suppressing attributes.


Lastly, the principle of energizing through diversity or maximizing biodiversity also has its place as an ecological strategy for weed management, particularly as you gain knowledge of weed's biology, behavior, and successional precursor in the farm landscape and what soil (e.g., low or high pH tolerance, wet, compacted, etc.) and growing conditions (i.e., cool season versus warm season) weeds require to germinate and thrive. Like the soil health-building principles, sound weed management requires an integrated approach and combination of strategies to control and reduce their impact on growing crops.


Mohler, C.L., Teasdale, J.R., & DiTomamaso, A. (2021). Manage Weeds On Your Farm

A Guide to Ecological Strategies. SARE Outreach. 416 pages. Available to download or order online at https://www.sare.org/resources/manage-weeds-on-your-farm/


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