News / Science & Technology

Skipping Pesticides, Farmers Control Weeds with Plants

Farmers Control Weeds with Plants Not Pesticidesi
X
January 17, 2014 3:05 PM
As overuse of a key chemical drives the spread of tough new herbicide-proof weeds, researchers are finding natural ways to fight back. VOA's Steve Baragona heads out to the fields
A deep green field of rye swayed in a gentle breeze at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville, Maryland, research station last May, blissfully ignorant of its impending doom.

Two-meter-tall stalks sported budding seed heads that would never ripen into amber waves of grain.

With a rattle and a screech, a tractor rolled through the field, knocking the grass flat with a giant red rolling pin. Metal bars curving around the rolling pin crushed the rye and killed it.

Left behind was a solid carpet of flattened rye.

It’s the latest in chemical-free weed control, explained USDA ecologist Steve Mirsky.

“It covers the ground,” he said. “It reduces the amount of light that gets down to the soil surface. And by keeping the ground cooler, it also inhibits the germination of weeds.”

And that’s important, he added, because “weeds are becoming much more of an issue in agriculture again.”

Weeds strike back

It’s the end of an era that began in 1996 with the introduction of genetically modified crops immune to the effects of an herbicide called Roundup. Spraying a field with Roundup kills the weeds but has no effect on the crop.

“That system works and it works well,” Mirsky said. “But the repeated application has the potential to cause resistance, and we’re certainly seeing resistance on the rise across the country.”

More than half of farmers across the country report problems with weeds Roundup no longer kills.

So Mirsky and others are studying an alternative: controlling weeds with plants, not pesticides.

In the fall, they carpet the ground with a so-called “cover crop” like rye. It gets a head start on the weeds.

They let it grow through the spring, then roll it down before planting.

Special equipment cuts or drills through the protective blanket of dead grass to plant the crop.

Pigweed under a blanket

Months later, at harvest time, a walk through the fields showed what rye rolling can do.

In a field that didn’t get the treatment, Mirsky points out a cluster troublesome plants called pigweeds growing as tall as the corn.

“They’ll compete with the corn," he said. "And more importantly, they'll set all this seed, and then you’ll have that many more weed problems.”

One pigweed plant can produce half a million seeds, and an infestation can quickly get out of control.

Meanwhile, walking past the rye-rolled field, he adds, “When you look in there, you can see almost no pigweed because the rye does a wonderful job suppressing it.”

Bonus benefits

And Mirsky says rolling cover crops does more than just fight weeds. The plants rolled down in the spring decay into rich soil, making for better harvests in the fall.

Cotton growers in the pigweed-plagued southeast have adopted rye cover crops to fight resistant weeds.  

And Mirsky says one of the big winners could be organic growers, who don’t use herbicides to control weeds.

“For an organic producer in a region where this is going to work, this could have huge implications,” he said.

It will not work everywhere, he adds. But where it does, it offers farmers a new tool to crush an age-old foe.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Nakameguro, TKO
January 18, 2014 9:13 PM
Am I alone to feel that the crops in the video seems not to be good to eat, meaning not delicious to eat?
Does that the results of American agriculture?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs