Weed Flamers Could Cut Organic Food Costs

Propane-powered flames could be the answer to ridding fields of organic crops of pesky weeds. (image: tristateneighbor.com)

Blasting weeds with propane-powered flames could see an end to expensive pesticides and revolutionize the organic food sector if a new agricultural invention proves successful.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska say a local company is interested in building trial weed flaming equipment and organic producers in the state have already tested the system on their farms, tristateneighbor.com reports.

The emerging weed control technique was unveiled at last week’s 2011 Sioux Falls Organic Agriculture Conference. Integrated weed management specialist Stevan Knezevic said after six years of research, the weed flaming technique was finally ready to be used in fields.

The machine uses mounted, carefully directed propane-burning units to throw a flame over plant tissue, increasing the temperature within the weed so the plant expands and bursts its cell walls, effectively killing the weeds.

Weeds are the number one agronomic concern for organic farmers. Organic weed herbicides cost up to $1000 an acre. If the weed flaming technique is a success, affordable propane, which is clean burning and domestically produced, could cut organic food costs and dramatically reduce the amount of herbicides sprayed on fields.

Farmers can move the propane-powered system through their fields at three to five mph, with anything in the heat-generation’s path affected. It takes about 10 gallons of propane per acre to kill weeds.

The two main difficulties when targeting weeds is ensuring the organic crop survives the flaming process and preventing fires in the field. Farmers have to make sure the flame doesn’t torch the organic crop’s growing source, and the system cannot be used on dry and highly flammable crops such as wheat fields.

Knezevic and his team had found yield losses in some field trials so far. However, despite some injuries to the crop plants when flaming, many had recovered well a week or two later.

“You have to know what you’re doing,” he said. “You can do a lot of damage to your crop if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Knezevic is writing a manual for the flamers and hopes to get the technology out soon. A Nebraska company plans to produce up to 50 of the flame weeding machines by spring.