Crops vs. Weeds
It’s not a new game, but an age-old challenge for farmers: how to control unwanted weeds that make it harder to grow healthy, bountiful farm crops. A winning strategy often requires a combination of good thinking, good tools and good practices.
Lately, Bayer’s team on Maui has been exploring new ways to manage weeds even better by using an important tool already growing on our farms across the state: cover crops. “We know that cover crops are great for lots of reasons, from reducing wind and water erosion of our soil to adding more biodiversity to our farms,” notes Judson Laird, agronomic research specialist at Bayer Crop Science. “We’ve additionally been thinking about how we can use cover crops to control weeds more efficiently.” Unlike farm crops, which are harvested to produce food or other agricultural products, cover crops are planted primarily to benefit the soil or manage the farm in a more sustainable way.
One approach is to use a cover crop plant with large dense leaves that cast a lot of shade on the ground, creating an environment that doesn’t allow weeds to thrive. The concept is the same as using mulch around flower beds; the material acts as a ‘mat’ that reduces weed seed germination.
A secondary approach to this effort is to plant additional areas with more diverse plants – like sun hemp, flax and clover – that provide a positive environment for beneficial insects. “Beneficial insects are great to have on a farm; among other things, they help to naturally control other insect pests that can damage farm crops,” Laird said. “We’re excited to see how these new approaches will work within our cover crop strategy.”