Integrating mechanical cultivation and competitive cultivars for improved weed management in Michigan vegetables

MSU researcher Daniel Brainard investigated the cost effectiveness of mechanical cultivation for weeds in vegetables.

Researcher: Daniel Brainard
Awarded: $28,150
Leveraged: $694,492

Weeds are a major constraint to profitable production of many vegetable crops. Although herbicides provide a foundation of effective and low-cost weed control for most vegetable growers, they are often not sufficient to avoid yield losses or expensive hand-weeding. Economic losses due to yield reduction and labor costs associated with weed escapes can reach as much as $700 per acre in conventionally grown Michigan vegetables. For organic growers, these losses can be far greater, and weeds are often ranked as the primary constraint to profitable production.

To reduce weed management costs and the risk of yield losses due to weeds, several new mechanical cultivation tools and guidance systems are available on the market, but growers have limited information on whether they are worth the investment and how best to use them.

Research objectives were to optimize the efficacy and selectivity of in-row mechanical cultivation tools under diverse crop, soil and residue conditions, and to improve weed management in winter squash through integration of mechanical cultivation and weed-competitive cultivars.

Economic impacts are difficult to quantify, but the information generated from the research has been well-received by growers. Findings include potential savings to growers by reducing crop damage and weed interference. Research results indicate that excessive bed preparation (e.g. rolling) prior to planting large seeded crops like beans adds unnecessary costs and may reduce efficacy of flextine cultivation by 20% or more. Reduced efficacy at this critical timing may increase hand-weeding costs by 10% or more or result in yield losses due to competition from weeds.

Overall, field experiments evaluating these tools, in combination with weed-competitive cultivars, have helped growers increase profits through reductions in weed competition and crop yield losses due to weeds.

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