Mechanical Weed Management

Spring has finally arrived in Iowa! The warmer weather has folks thinking about summer and, unfortunately, thinking about weeds. Thankfully, we recently archived our winter webinar on mechanical weed management techniques.

With support from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, IOA was able to invite longtime organic farmers Paul Mugge and David Nees to speak about their experiences with managing weeds in organic row crop systems. Over forty folks from Michigan to Montana tuned in to listen to Paul and David discuss their strategies when we hosted the webinar in February. Now, their conversation is available for you to listen to at your leisure! We hope that you will learn a lot from Paul and David. David has been farming organically near Storm Lake for more than thirty years. He now shares the farm with his son, Andrew. Paul Mugge is an organic farmer and Iowa Organic Association board member from Sutherland, Iowa. He is a life-long environmentalist and his farm management has been a progression from conventional, to sustainable, to completely organic since 2001.

Are you curious about crop rotations, cultural and biological weed management strategies, and equipment recommendations? Paul and David discuss all of these topics and more during in their webinar. Read on and tune in.

One weed management strategy that organic farmers employ is crop rotation. Crop rotations are intended to disrupt pest and weed cycles. By rotating row crops and solid seeded crops, annual and perennial crops, and cash and cover crops, farmers are able to create systems that deter weeds and pests. Crop rotations are an essential part of the organic farming system. In fact, having at least a three-year rotation is a requirement for certified organic row crop farms. 

Paul's ridge till soybean field.

Although Dave and Paul have similar farms, they have slightly different rotations. Dave uses a five year rotation of corn, soybeans, corn, oats/alfalfa, and alfalfa. Paul, who plants in a ridge till system, uses a four year rotation of corn, soybeans, small grains/red clover, and then a fourth year of a crop such as triticale, barley, oats, flax, canola, or wheat.

Both Paul and David use specialized equipment for managing weeds. Their equipment tool kits include rotary hoes, tine weeders, smart till machines, rolling stalk choppers, and cultivators. It was fascinating to listen to Paul and David compare their techniques for managing weeds throughout the seasons. When David plants corn following soybeans, his strategy looks like this: First he spreads chicken litter over the field before using the Smart Till and field cultivator. He then plants 35,000 seeds/acre, uses a tine weeder, rotary hoes, cultivates, and then flame cultivates. Paul’s plan looks slightly different. When he plans corn following soybeans, he spreads composts and he disks in the fall. He disks again in the spring, and then field cultivates one or two times. His seeding rate is similar to Paul’s. He then tine weeds or rotary hoes three times, and cultivates three times.

David and Paul’s soybean management systems are also different. To prepare for a soybean rotation, David uses the Smart Till, disks, field cultivates, and then plants 185,000/acre. He then tine weeds, hoes, and tine weeds again before cultivating twice and then walking the beans. Paul first uses a rolling chopper, then plants 190,000/acre. He rotary hoes three times, tine weeds once, cultivates three times, and then walks the beans.

If you are curious about how organic farmers manage weeds, take some time to listen to Paul and David share their valuable experiences. Thanks to everyone who tuned in for the webinar. It was great to hear your questions! If you have questions about mechanical weed management, write them in the comments below. We’ll be happy to ask David and Paul for their advice.

The Iowa Organic Association is sponsoring a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day on mechanical weed management on Wednesday, July 11th at Nelson Smith’s farm in Washington, Iowa. Farmers could also attend our July 24th field day at the Lehman Farm. This field day, Dual Cropping Systems: An Introduction, will show folks how Aaron and Nicole Lehman manage both conventional and organic fields at their farm. We hope to see you there!


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