The research project is officially underway! The past few weeks have been busy—measuring and flagging test plots, collecting forage samples, making modifications to equipment, coordinating research plans, and actually getting things started. Many local producers agree that the growing season is about three weeks behind normal. But recently, the plants have come to life. Most days have been on the cooler (albeit seasonable), damper side but warm enough for grasses, plants and, yes, weeds, to grow—a lot!
Our project tasks thus far have been focusing on four of the five Integrated Weed Management (IWM) techniques: mechanical (mowing), cultural (monitoring ground cover), chemical (herbicides), and biological (using goats for grazing).
Preventive measures, the fifth component of IWM, hasn’t been necessary at this point since the chicory isn’t flowering and no seed is being produced. Our goal is to keep it that way!
Let's get into what we’re working on so far...
Mowing is obviously one of the more visible aspects of our research, especially in these early stages of the project. On Three Hearts Farm, we have designated nine plots (each one-half acre in size) to demonstrate varied mowing practices differentiated by mowing frequencies, cutting heights, and whether the cut plant matter is left on the plot or removed. Some plots will be cut every two weeks while others every four weeks, and some twice during the season while others only once. The mower will be set to cut at heights of either four or eight inches. Some plots have already had the cut forage removed by raking and baling, but on others, the residue will be left to provide another layer of ground cover. All of the plots will be monitored to determine which, if any, mowing procedures adversely affect the vitality of the chicory plant.
Of any part of our research, the mowing process is perhaps the most prone to modification. It’s too early to say what effect the mowing is going to have on the chicory plants. One of the basic elements of IWM is to use mechanical methods (mowing) to control weed growth. Thus, our immediate, short-range goal is to control the spread of chicory on the organic ground. Eliminating it is preferable, but with the options available to organic growers, eradication will likely take time, patience, and persistence. We have measures planned for later in the growing season during which a cover crop of grass and clover will be no-till seeded in two of the test plots. The intent is to bolster the population of desirable plants while crowding out the chicory. For the next few months, in preparation of that planting, our resolve is to weaken the vitality of the chicory plants and keep them from becoming more prolific so the new seeding of grass and clover has a better chance of surviving.
Several sources have agreed that mowing may actually stimulate the chicory plant, as it can spur shoots to grow from the existing root structure. This data causes us some consternation about whether mowing will have the desired result. Then again, common weed management rationale infers that if the plant can be prevented from reaching the mature seed stage (a process called “bolting”) by eliminating the flowering stem, fewer seeds should be produced, resulting in fewer new seedlings.
The trick is to keep the plant from going to seed. To get a sense of the challenge we face, imagine controlling dandelions on your lawn. You mow your grass and, in a period of 24 hours, the dandelions have grown, bolted, and produced a new seed head almost overnight. Remember, chicory is a relative of the dandelion and they share some characteristics. In fact, in the early growth stages, a person has to look closely to distinguish between the two plants.
While chicory doesn’t flower nearly as quickly as a dandelion, the seed stem reappears in amazing time. We have seen this quick recovery in areas of our farm we’ve cut with a lawn mower, typically at heights of less than four inches. With repeated mowing, we have still seen the plant bolt, but the flowers develop closer to the ground, just below the height of the mower blade. Without lowering the mower, the blade can’t reach the stem to cut it off and the plant flowers and reseeds. Below are some photos showing just how persistent chicory is to reproduce. The first photo was taken on June 19th and shows the chicory just before being mowed. The second photo was taken after the mowing was completed a few hours later. The third photo was taken on June 27th. The grass is still short (four inches) but the chicory has grown and bolted, and the stem is already 24” tall. Left in this condition, it would flower in a short time.
So, what’s the difference between what is happening on the lawn and the mowing we are doing in the organic field? Not much! At this stage of the project, on the organic side, our goal is to control. Will the varied mowing heights make a difference? That’s to be seen. The critical task is to monitor the chicory’s condition in each plot and make adjustments as necessary to meet the control goal. Will we be repeating the mowing sequences next year? That’s also to be seen. Much depends on the results we get in the next weeks and months. Stay tuned to the progress and results.
At this point, only one IWM cultural procedure is in progress—monitoring the ground cover to assure adequate residue and plant material are present to shade and protect the ground. The raking and baling mentioned earlier is part of this effort. Rather than demonstrating practices that could be duplicated in a garden (techniques such as mulching or hand weeding, for instance), our project will demonstrate practices that the typical ag producer would be doing on acres and acres of land. The raking and baling duplicates harvesting the hay on an organic hay field and leaving what ground cover remains. Even though this practice takes place on all types of hay fields, and most producers are cognizant of the effects of harvesting the hay, we chose to add this component to our research so we can readily show how removing the forage and plant material affects the soil and plant health.
The herbicide trials will undoubtedly be getting a lot of attention from people, both through our blog posts and our farm visits. When we mention to producers what we are doing for research on our farm, we typically get asked what herbicide works best to control chicory. We very much appreciate the help of Paul Johnson (SDSU Cooperative Extension Weed Science Coordinator) and his staff for helping us perform verifiable, university-driven tests using various chemicals. Each herbicide we’re using is readily available to producers.
After scouting out various locations on our farm, we decided on a portion of a hay field that has become infested with chicory. The field’s forage is a mixture of grass, clover, and alfalfa. If weather conditions would have allowed, we would have harvested a portion of the forage from the plots to determine how much the use of herbicides will affect the alfalfa. Because timing didn’t work with this round of applications, we have a high degree of certainty that the alfalfa and clover will take a hit. Even so, our sense is that the alfalfa may still recover; the result will all be part of the research. Later in the year, we plan to harvest a portion of a weed-infested hay field and then apply an herbicide within a day or so, giving the chicory time to recover but not waiting too long so the alfalfa has time to regrow.
The chemical trials were conducted on 34 plots measuring 10’ x 30’ each. Two plots are “control plots” and received no chemical treatment at all. On the other 32 plots, 15 different chemical combinations were applied, some of which were applied at varying rates to ascertain the lowest effective amount that can be applied to the plants and that will still get a satisfactory result.
An added component of the trials is the application of organically-friendly solutions on a separate group of plots. We decided to add this component after speaking with people who were interested in seeing what happens when some of the more common substances, typically used by organic gardeners, are applied to chicory-infested areas. Dave Heck, the Lawrence County Invasive Species Coordinator, specifically requested that we try vinegar and gin. After consulting with Paul Johnson, we decided to add seven additional plots, two of which will be for household cleaning vinegar (6% acetic acid strength) and one for horticulture vinegar (20% acetic acid strength or higher). The high percentage vinegar is rather difficult to acquire locally, and we will apply that vinegar once we have been able to find a provider.
The other four plots are somewhat more unique in what will be applied. Rather than using gin as the alcohol substance—gin contains up to 50% alcohol and is rather costly to apply in volume—we have decided to use 100% corn ethanol on two of the plots. On the remaining two plots, we have decided to try E85 Ethanol (yep, the same stuff used in fuel-flex vehicles) since that contains 85% ethyl alcohol. I’m not sure I’d recommend either just yet… this falls into the “don’t try this at home” category. Please let us see what happens first before attempting this yourself. These plots are smaller, measuring 10’ x 20’ each. The environmental impact, if any, will be minimal.
The team from SDSU has a tremendous amount of experience in conducting these tests. All of the chemicals and substances were applied at a rate of 20 gallons of water/herbicide PER ACRE. Since the plots are small (0.0069 acres for the herbicide plots and 0.0046 acres for the organic trials), the amount of chemicals being applied to each plot was very minute (mere fractions of an ounce or pint).
The actual application process was a learning experience for me. Dave Vos (SDSU Weed Science Ag Research Manager/Specialist) and Jill Alms (SDSU Weed Science Ag Research Manager/Specialist) made short work of getting it done. While Dave walked the plots, applying the various herbicides, Jill methodically measured and mixed each substance. Dave used a backpack that was pressured by compressed carbon dioxide. He said that he has done this so many times that he doesn’t even have to think about how fast he walks to get the application rate correct.
It should be mentioned that a part of the herbicide trial involves monitoring weather conditions. Jill documented wind speed and direction, temperature, and relative humidity. This data is necessary to assure the applications are done correctly and that the chemicals stay where they are intended to be placed. Thanks, guys, for all your work!!
Just to give everyone an idea of the condition of the chicory in the plots being sprayed, the majority of the plant leaf matter ranges from 8” to 12” tall. However, some bolting is beginning to occur, meaning taller stems are forming. Jill located one very prolific plant that gives us an idea of what chicory is capable of. Jill is 5’ 4” tall. The photo speaks for itself.
Finally, while the biological aspect (grazing with goats) is scheduled to begin in earnest next week, we have been monitoring the condition of the chicory in the goats’ pastures. Our experience over the years is that the goats (and other livestock on our farm) don’t really desire the chicory plant when it is in the rosette stage. That is the low-growing, leafy period that most of us are familiar with in the spring when dandelions are growing in our lawns.
A quick internet search reveals a common characteristic of chicory. People who have eaten chicory leaves in salads have commented that the leaves have a somewhat bitter taste. Some folks prefer the taste while others avoid it. Many online sites mention that chicory leaves become bitterer the older they are and the more they are exposed to sunlight and air. They’re right—I’ve eaten chicory, and I’m not a fan.
Do people and animals have similar selective tastes? Actually, yes, and there is a scientific explanation. According to Kim Cassida, author of “Chicory: Improved varieties are a pasture option” in Progressive Forage (August 29, 2014), “Chicory forage reduces worm burdens in small ruminants and farmed deer, offering an alternative to chemical dewormers. The primary bioactive components responsible for this effect are sesquiterpene lactones, which are also responsible for the characteristic bitter flavor of chicory… While chicory is usually highly palatable, occasionally animals are reluctant to eat it, which may be related to the bitterness of the sesquiterpene lactones.”
So, now we know why the goats, in fact, may not “eat everything,” as it is claimed. Cassida pointed out that sheep will commonly avoid chicory with high sesquiterpene lactone levels but goats don’t show a preference one way or another. Perhaps our critters are a little pickier.
All that being said, I know from working on another project in which we used sheep to eat dalmatian toadflax that animals can be trained to eat something that they initially don’t like. In that research project, the sheep initially wouldn’t touch any of the toadflax plant, leaves or stems. After a short time, and with a little encouragement in the form of being left in a toadflax-infested plot and having consumed nearly everything else, the sheep ate the toadflax. In fact, they even developed a preference for it to the point that they would eat the toadflax and leave grass standing. That’s called a “trained flock.”
In the chicory project, we’re a little ahead of the game. Even though the goats aren’t munching on the chicory leaves (they like to browse on plants about shoulder height or 12” off the ground), we’ve seen countless examples in the pastures where the goats have nipped the chicory stems all the way down to the rosette. The leaves are untouched (too bitter?) but the stem (and ensuing flowers and seeds) are gone. Now we just have to get them to target the leaf and really reduce the chicory plant matter, the next phase of what lies ahead for the weed-eating crew.
This post was long, but a lot happened this month! Please stay tuned for future news and research results at the end of July. If you haven’t already signed up for our newsletter on our website or Facebook page, we invite you to do so by following this link. See you next month!
Consulting with Mother Nature
When we were planning our project, using previous years’ experiences as a guide, we anticipated that the weeds would be actively growing by mid- to late-May of this year. Last year, when we were helping with the South Dakota Cooperative Extension and Bureau of Land Management project using sheep to target Dalmatian toadflax, we were nearly halfway into the research and already had tangible results by the end of May.
But, when we were preparing for this year’s project, we apparently forgot to consult with Mother Nature about the weather. Here we are at the end of May and the trees are just starting to leaf out. The grasses and other plants (including weeds) are starting to grow but not like a “normal” year. In fact, on May 22nd, we were blessed to receive 7 inches of very heavy, wet snow. We’re not complaining—the higher elevations of the Black Hills received in excess of 20 inches. But over the last few weeks, we have yet to see much sunshine.
In western South Dakota, you don’t complain about the moisture. But we’re beginning to think it’s OK to frown a bit. For the past several days, we have been in a wet weather pattern and, as a result, we are having to rethink our grazing plans. The pasture where we had originally intended to start grazing the goats is so wet that we can hardly find places to put the shelters and pens that don’t have water running through them. Just look at the pictures below…that’s a difference of only a few hours! Thankfully, we have other options on the farm, so we’ll scout out another site, at least until things dry up a bit.
One positive from all of the constant rain is some unintended but necessary training for the weed-eating team. Admittedly, our goats are a bit wimpy when it comes to precipitation falling from the sky. Typically, at the first sign of rain, they head for shelter—at a run.
(I know. Some of you with range-hardy goats are saying, “Really???”)
We have friends who have “tougher” goats, mainly because those critters are out on a vast pasture in the spring and summer and don’t have the luxury of a barn or shelter being within an easy running distance. We had actually wondered how our boys would behave being restricted to the test plots with less-than-ideal barn-like shelter conditions readily available. But, after days upon days of rain, they have apparently gotten weary of lounging in the barn and have succumbed to the calling of the green grass. This morning, with rain falling from the sky, the herd was out grazing! Training mission accomplished!
One other change resulting from the weather-related delay will be when we have our farm tour and seminar. Again, anticipating a routine year, we had thought that July would be a good time to show some research results. But with the cool, wet weather delaying plant growth, we thought that later in the summer might be a better time to showcase what we’ve been doing. After conferring with some of the groups that have expressed an interest in attending the tour, we have decided that Saturday, August 24, 2019, will be the date of our annual tour and farm event. We will have more information forthcoming on the day’s itinerary, but we can safely say that we will have the speakers and tours in the morning, beginning at 8:00 a.m., and will conclude around noon. We plan to welcome everyone to stay for a light lunch and, if anyone wishes to do so, spend some time mingling with other participants, get some questions answered, and share thoughts and ideas. So, mark your calendar—we would love to have you join us!
Hopefully, by the time our next blog and newsletter comes out the end of June, we will actually be able to show the research efforts well underway. Summer shouldn’t be far away, right? Again, if you haven’t already signed up for our newsletter on our website or Facebook page, we invite you to do so by following this link.
Thanks for following us. See you next month!
The FAQs of IWM
Whether you own a small hobby farm or a large farming and ranching operation, controlling weeds can be a never-ending task. Determining which method of weed control to implement can seem somewhat elusive, especially when so many techniques and approaches exist.
For many years, herbicides were the option of choice. Yet relying on herbicides alone has only resulted in more herbicide-resistant weeds. According to the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, 254 weed species are now herbicide-resistant; what’s more, this survey determined that weeds are now resistant to 163 different herbicides. It goes without saying that herbicides, by themselves, are not the answer to sustainable, and effective, weed control.
A more viable strategy is Integrated Weed Management (IWM). But what exactly is IWM? How does someone go about implementing this approach? And what are its benefits? Let’s explore these questions and more.
What Is IWM?
According to the Integrated Weed Management (IWM) Resource Center, “IWM is an approach to managing weeds using multiple control tactics.” These methods include mechanical, chemical, cultural, and biological techniques, combined together over the course of a growing season. The key to IWM is not relying too heavily on one method over another. That’s why selecting specific weed species to target and then adjusting the timing of control methods and resources is so important. The initial and subsequent prevention of the spread of weeds and their seeds enhances the effectiveness of IWM.
How Is IWM Implemented?
IWM is not a “one and done” approach. Just as Integrated Pest Management involves a multi-step process that includes identifying the problem, assessing the severity of the issue, determining options, implementing the best strategy, assessing once again, and recording the results, IWM involves a number of stages that occur over the course of a given growing season. The first stage, which perhaps is obvious, is prevention. The goal of prevention is making certain that weed-seed-contaminated forage products do not leave the farm. Monitoring pastures for weed growth and reducing the potential movement of weed seeds from one location to the next, whether through livestock manure or farm equipment, can help lessen the spread of weeds. Additionally, establishing borders between fields and pastures can also limit exposure and spreading.
Another stage involves cultural methods that maximize crop production during the growing season. Rotating crops, limiting bare ground (whether in rows or in pastures) to create better crop cover, and selecting those crops that will be most effective in competing against weeds are all ways a producer can culturally change his or her planting patterns to limit weed growth. Ultimately, if fewer weed species grow to maturity, fewer weed seeds will accumulate during the growing season.
Once weeds begin to grow, chemical, mechanical, and biological methods become the third stage. As stated above, many weeds have become herbicide-resistant. However, using residual herbicides and applying the chemical according to specific rates and at specific weed growth times can boost the effectiveness of herbicide application. Rotating different herbicides and avoiding the application of two similar herbicides on the same site will also produce better results. In addition to chemical applications, organic methods, which include everything from tilling, mowing, and burning to hand pulling and seed collection, can help control weed growth and spreading. Intensive grazing by livestock trained to eat unwanted weeds can also weaken the weed plants, making them more susceptible to other IWM control methods.
Why Is IWM Important?
Aside from the fact that ag producers can no longer rely on herbicides alone to solve their weed woes, IWM gives producers more options for both controlling weeds and capitalizing on resources they already have. Organic producers can also find effective strategies to control weeds in their fields and gardens.
What Are the Benefits of Using IWM?
Just about any ag producer, big or small, can use IWM. By blending and incorporating IWM strategies into realistically-doable applications, producers can find an effective, ecologically-sound, and financially-viable solution that is suitable for nearly any agricultural operation. Because these options are also sustainable over the long-term, enhanced quality and production of the land, balanced resource stewardship, and an improved bottom line becomes more plausible.
How Do I Get Started?
That’s what our SARE grant project is planning to demonstrate! Our project will use all five of the methods described above. On the conventional Butte Vista Farm, our preventive measures already include keeping any infested hay on the farm and placing animals in a clean-out pen before locating them to a non-infested pasture. Biological methods will include intensive grazing with goats; chemical methods will include using varied rates of different herbicides. On the organically-certified Three Heart Farm, preventive measures will include keeping infested hay, cultural methods will include planting cover crops, mechanical methods will include mowing and hand-weeding, and biological methods will include using chickens to reduce the number of seeds. As the project moves forward, future blogs and newsletters will address how these methods are utilized in more detail.
In our next post, we will describe the preparations we have made during the last few months to get ready for this year’s growing season. Watch for the next post towards the end of this month and stay tuned through our social media sources. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our newsletter by following this link.
1. Hillyer, G. (2018, August). Weed wars. Progressive Farmer, 4.
2. Pittman, K., Flessner, M., Rubione, C., & Ackroyd, V. (2019). What is integrated weed management? Retrieved from http://integratedweedmanagement.org/index.php/iwm-toolbox/what-is-integrated-weed-management/
3. South Dakota Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Weed and pest control, integrated pest management. Retrieved from https://sdda.sd.gov/ag-services/weed-and-pest-control/weed-pest-control
WELCOME TO OUR FIRST IN A SERIES OF BLOG POSTS RELATED TO OUR 2019-2020 SARE GRANT PROJECT
Chicory has locally become an unwanted, invasive plant in pastures, hay grounds, and crop lands. While once limited to a small area, chicory has now spread to expanses previously free of the plant. Attempts have been made to control its encroachment, but these efforts have been met with mixed results. Therefore, we decided to make a concerted effort to study and research methods to determine what practices can effectively be used to control the plant.
After successfully applying for and being awarded a SARE Farmer/Rancher grant, we are prepared to move our project from the planning stage to preparation of material and equipment. Very soon, we will be putting our plan into practice. We are eager to share the evolution of our research project with you and we invite you to follow our project’s progress. Before we present you with the details of the methods of weed control that we will use, we feel it may be helpful to provide some background information to lay a foundation for why we are doing what we are hoping to accomplish.
Chicory - Friend or Foe?
When trying to deal with any problematic weed, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about it to figure out what makes it tick, so to speak. While researching for our chicory control project, I often had a recurring thought: “Why are we trying to eradicate something that many people find beneficial in countless ways?” A quick internet search of “chicory” shows a dozen ways the plant is used for the betterment of the lives of humans and animals alike. It can aid in treating many medical aliments. There are recipes available to use chicory for salads and other culinary dishes. It makes a wonderful coffee substitute and food additive. It is grown for livestock forage and, when consumed, can actually help reduce parasites in animals. A person can even order seeds to plant it! And this is just the tip of the information iceberg. So instead of trying to control chicory, why aren’t we doing what we can to make it thrive?
What Is Chicory?
Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a biennial or perennial, warm-season, herbaceous plant of the dandelion family. There are a number of cultivated, planted varieties of chicory. One variety, if grown under carefully managed conditions, can be as nutritious as other forage crops including alfalfa. “Tame” chicory (again, the planted variety) has numerous uses as previously mentioned. However, once the plant “bolts” (grows from the leafy stage into three to six-foot-high stems), the feed and food values drop. If not managed, as we have observed, chicory has a tendency to encroach into dry prairie areas and can become a problem. Chicory has now been listed as a noxious weed in some states and British Columbia. Beginning in 2019, chicory will once again be listed as an invasive, noxious weed in Lawrence County of South Dakota.
How Does Chicory Propagate?
Some online sites claim chicory’s existing plant population begins to drop after the biennial (two-year) life span of the plant is reached. Others, however, note that under more agreeable growing conditions, chicory can survive for at least five years or longer.
Still other sites note chicory does not spread or re-seed itself. That has not been the observations we have made. Our experience is that chicory can reproduce from existing plants as seen in these photos of plants from one of our pastures.
While we cannot be certain whether growth in the spring is strictly from last year’s plants (as noted above) or whether it can be attributed to new growth from seeds, we do know that plants have begun to grow in areas where a stand of chicory had previously not existed. One can only surmise that would occur from a new seedling taking root.
Why Control Chicory?
To put it simply, many things, if left uncontrolled, can become a problem. With plants, one species can invade an area and begin to negatively compete with the existing desirable plants. When this happens, steps may need to be taken to get the unwanted guest under control.
What may be beneficial and raised successfully in one part of the country (or state) may not be so valuable in another environmental setting. For example, in our semi-arid area in western South Dakota, the native and valued introduced range plants are tough. But in periods of drought, these species can become stressed. They fail to compete with other plants that have deeper roots and, ultimately, are crowded out. Chicory is one of those deep-rooted plants.
Some plant species are desirable, to a point. Chicory is, again, such an example. When the plant is young and tender, it may be palatable to livestock. But as it becomes more mature and the plant changes from a leafy, succulent mass to a three-foot nearly leafless stem, livestock tend to avoid it. If left alone, it will then produce an abundance of seeds that can grow into more chicory plants that can choke out other more productive plants. It is not uncommon for us to observe areas of chicory in which the plants have become so numerous that there is a nearly complete absence of grasses or forage plants.
Finally, when a producer is growing a crop—be it for grain, forage or other market—it is necessary to keep the crop as clean and pure as possible. The inclusion of other plants like chicory can seriously reduce the quality and usefulness of the intended product. Control of the invasive plant then becomes a requirement.
We are now prepared to initiate our two-year, SARE funded project to use Integrated Weed Management (IWM) practices to control chicory. In our next post scheduled for mid-May, we will explain in further detail what IWM is all about. We will also explain the preparations that have been underway. We invite you to join us and stay tuned through our social media sources. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to our newsletter to have our blog posts sent directly to your inbox.