With the rain that we and our growers had earlier in the season, we’ve seen and heard about weeds posing a big challenge. In some cases, we’ve had farmers replanting due to strong weed pressure.
This spring, we at BigYield.us have experimented with managing weeds using a Red Dragon row crop burner. Burners use a propane torch to create heat that controls pre- and post-emergent weeds and grasses without damaging the crop itself. In this video, Kent Kauffman of BigYield.us describes more about our research using burners and shows a burner in action.
Intense heat from a burner vaporizes water stored in plant cells. Small weeds and grasses typically die soon after being targeted by a burner. The heat generally stunts larger weeds, which would later be shaded as the crop develops a canopy. Also, heat that reaches the soil can kill weed seed before it germinates. With a burner, heat surrounds the crop from both sides. To avoid crop damage, burner units strategically position the propane torches to avoid reaching crop leaves, and the base of plants have limited heat exposure.
Because burners use clean-burning propane, growers risk no run-off or contamination. Plus, heat from a burner may ease pest pressure by eliminating insect habitat between rows.
Burners work well to eliminate weeds on certified organic operations because they offer a chemical-free option. USDA has acknowledged burners as an organic weed control alternative.
However, conventional operations may also find value in burners. If fields are too wet for cultivation, then growers may instead use a burner. Some estimates suggest that operating a burner would halve weed control costs when compared to typical herbicide expenditures. Given Missouri propane costs, we project that the propane cost per acre when operating a burner would range from $5.40 to $9.45. Additionally, this story from Midwest Producer describes burners as a tool to address herbicide resistance.
You can read more about burner use in this story from Farm Progress.
If you have questions about incorporating a burner unit as a weed control strategy on your farm, then contact us anytime.