While farmers work hard each year to maximize yields, yields ultimately impacted by nature more than most things producers do, one thing remains constant, weeds grow under just about every condition conceivable.
Wild oats have been the scourge of farmers for decades.
They have been attacked with plows, discs, rod weeders, cultivators and herbicide after herbicide, and still they pop up every year.
And wild oats are just one of the weeds farmers deal with.
Wild mustard, kochia and a dozen others, depending on the area, infest crops with the potential to zap yields by consuming needed nutrients and moisture, forcing producers to invest in crop protection products to kill weeds.
The best cultivation techniques and the most heralded of herbicides are still not 100 per cent effective, and so weeds grow, produce a multitude of seeds which stay in the soil to pop up in future years.
Interesting harvesting is actually a rather effective weed seed distribution system.
Weed seeds are small and pass through the combine, being spread with the blowing chaff coming out of the combine.
A number of years ago the idea of a chaff catcher came to the Prairies. It was a simple enough device, catching the chaff which was then deposited in piles across the field.
From there farmers had options. One was to allow cattle to graze the piles. It was a way to transfer some additional crop nutrients to livestock, in this case producing beef, although it was not the best solution in terms of weeds. Many weed seeds survive quite nicely going through the gut of a cow, and when it passes through the animal it actually ends up on the ground in a nutrient rich spot thanks to the rest of the manure. The weed seed’s potential to grow is actually enhanced.
The other solution was to burn the chaff piles, fire at least having a higher rate of success in terms of killing weed seeds.
In Australia a sort of chaff catching machine is again turning up behind some combines.
A recent Western Producer story detailed the machine which is finding acceptance in Western Australia where producers are looking for harvest time weed control options in the face of growing herbicide resistance weed concerns.
The methods include a chaff chute where the resulting row is burned, to a machine which not only collects the weed seeds, but mechanically crushes them rendering them not viable to grow.
It’s a system which would obviously be effective, with reports for Australia of up to 95 per cent of key weed seeds being destroyed, but comes at a high too.
The unit is in the range of a quarter of a million in Canadian cash, and when you think of how many producers operate multiple combines the investment would be massive, and at this point very hard to justify.
Of course as farmers face growing herbicide resistance alternative weed control will gain interest and kickstarting the control by destroying weed seeds at harvest is certainly a logical avenue to explore.
And you have to think combine manufacturers will be looking at the technology and how to integrate it into the combine itself. At that point the idea of seed crushing will be more viable.
Certainly harvest control of weeds will become a more important part of an overall weed strategy moving forward, it just needs to be cost-effective to find greater farmer uptake here.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.