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Weed control project in US is a real shocker

Weed control is a problem as old as agriculture itself, but two projects from an American university researcher aim to cultivate new methods for zapping the pesky plants, benefitting organic apple and grape growers and hemp producers in New York state and around the country.

Lynn Sosnoskie, assistant pro-fessor in the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell AgriTech is collaborating on a $2 million project to study electric weed control in perennial fruit crops.

She is also leading a $325,000 weed management study for

hemp. Both studies are multi-

institution, multi-state under-takings that aim to provide growers with evidence-based,

location-specific recommendat-ions to suppress weeds and maximise yields.

Both projects began in Sept-ember, will run for three years and are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).

“We’re going to be in different regions, different production environments, different soil types, different rain patterns,” Prof Sosnoskie said.

“By banding together to do

this work, we’ll be able to understand the similarities in

our systems and highlight the differences. This will be really useful for developing our extension outreach publications for growers.”

For the apple and grape study, Prof Sosnoskie and collaborators at Oregon State University and the University of California, Davis, will test the performance, safety, and economic and en-vironmental sustainability of electric weed control in organic production.

The organic product market in the United States topped $60 billion in 2020, and the largest market segment is fresh fruit.

Due to the nature of apple, grape and other perennial fruit plantings, crop rotation and intensive soil disturbance are not viable strategies for weed control. Organic herbicides and mulches can be expensive.

Those factors led Prof Sos-noskie and her colleagues to consider a novel weed control tool: electricity.

The devices they will be testing essentially electrocute weeds by sending a jolt of electricity through the plant, damaging

the plant’s cells and chloro-

phyll.

The researchers will study whether electric weed control can suppress weeds without damaging crops or soil health.

They are also partnering with an agricultural economist to study the financial viability of electric weeders, and with an external stakeholder group of organic growers, distributors and scientific advisers to share knowledge.

For the hemp study, Prof Sos-noskie and her colleagues will be doing more fundamental and wide-ranging work to understand best weed management practices for a crop that has been legal to grow for only five years in New York state and three years nationally.

Hemp is a versatile crop, valued for its grain, fibre and CBD-producing qualities.

In New York, the hemp industry has blossomed from one grower in 2016 to more than 800 growers today.

Nationwide in 2020, hemp growers licensed more than 400,000 acres for production.

The hemp industry has also

experienced some well-pub-licised growing pains and setbacks, as farmers, distributors and markets scramble to adjust to consumer demand for new hemp products.

Prof Sosnoskie’s team will study and develop recommendations describing how variety choice, planting timing, cultivation, cover

crops, mulching and other st-rategies can keep weeds at bay.

“The prohibitions on hemp production meant prohibitions on hemp research,” she said.

“I get a lot of questions about weed control in hemp, and we don’t have a lot of answers other than generalities. What we’re hoping to do is fill in those details.”

Formal studies on different varieties, planting times and weather impacts on weed management would be helpful for organic farmers growing hemp, who are relying on a lot of trial and error, said Dan Dolgin, co-founder of Eaton Hemp and co-owner of JD Farms, the first licensed hemp grower in New York state

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