This week I attended Mechanical Weeding Live at RAU, Cirencester. Naturally there was a fair degree of interest from organic growers but I would say there was a good half non-organics looking at alternatives to costly herbicide programmes.
There’s challenge enough working in an organic crop, but dry conditions and an exploding weed population really put the machines on test. Before we got to see the machines we had interesting talks from RAU lecturer Nicky Canon on the theory, then practitioners Nick August and John Pawsey.
Whether organic or not, the clear message was that a holistic approach is required involving many aspects – rotation, variety choice, sowing date and a massive dose of flexibility and timeliness for timings of weeding operations.
Combcut, Opico, Rotary hoe …and more
Given the weed population and conditions, there was no conclusion whether one machine was better or not than another on the day. So, it’s great that the RAU are going to put the plot combine through the trials so see the ultimate yield outcomes.
In every case, two passes had thinned the weeds more, but also left a thinner crop. It made me think this was an area for cooperation between neighbours, perhaps owning different machines to give more flexible options for attack on a weed population.
There is more work to be done here evaluating the cost of multiple weeding passes, labour and machinery. Depending on the relative yielding differences, could it be ‘that less is more’? Perhaps variety choice and a higher seed rate might return a better margin without all the weeding costs, even if the yield may not be as high as it could have been?