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

US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

Governors of several East Coast states close schools, order travel bans, urge people to stay home as snowfall, heavy winds, flooding continue in areas More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid