The Question of Sustainability
As we mentioned in our last post, we wanted to discuss the term “sustainability” and explore how well our IWM operations are fulfilling the aspects of sustainable agriculture and conservation. The main consideration we’ve had as we’ve been conducting this research project is whether what we are doing can be done on a long-term basis. In other words, can we sustain what we are doing financially, long term, with the labor requirements, and still achieve our goal of improving our operation? That made us think about what the term “sustainability” really means.
The term “sustainability” frequently gets mentioned when a discussion turns to a person’s belief of whether what someone else is doing is deemed to be environmentally-friendly or sound. In agriculture, it can determine whether a person perceives an ag producer as a “good” farmer/rancher or a “bad” one, depending on whether or not the agricultural practice sustains the environment or leads to the demise of the world.
Unfortunately, the term “sustainability” is often narrowly limited to one aspect of the matter, the use of natural resources—soil, air, water, plants, wildlife, i.e., the earth. What is forgotten is the ecological aspect is only one crucial part of the bigger “sustainability” issue.
On their website, SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) lists “3 Pillars of Sustainability” as the following:
The Western SARE website also shares this viewpoint from Dr. John E. Ikerd, Extension Professor at the University of Missouri: “A sustainable agriculture must be economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound. The economic, social and ecological are interrelated, and all are essential to sustainability. An agriculture that uses up or degrades its natural resource base, or pollutes the natural environment, eventually will lose its ability to produce. It's not sustainable. An agriculture that isn't profitable, at least over time, will not allow its farmers to stay in business. It's not sustainable. An agriculture that fails to meet the needs of society, as producers and citizens as well as consumers, will not be sustained by society. It's not sustainable. A sustainable agriculture must be all three—ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. And the three must be in harmony.”
We couldn’t have said it better!
As our project has progressed, we have made a conscious effort to note whether certain efforts match SARE’s “3 Pillars of Sustainability.” Below, we reflect on each of our IWM practices.
Pillar #1: Profit over the long term
As we will again note under the preventative IWM principle, we have a significant amount of hay harvested from some of our fields that we will not be able to market because we are not satisfied with the amount of chicory in the product. Even though we’ve tried to control the weeds, the wet weather this year made timing very difficult. We will be able to utilize this forage for our livestock, so we can’t really state that we are losing profit because we need our own hay anyway. However, we will need to be watchful to assure that we keep areas frequented by our livestock free of re-infestation since they are consuming hay with chicory (and presumably chicory seeds) and then grazing in the pastures. That takes time and money if we need to keep taking action to squelch new plants.
Since we have been typically using herbicides to remove chicory from our hayfields, we have accepted the fact that the alfalfa being killed is merely a necessary part of collateral damage. We have been believing that alfalfa and chicory have growth cycles that are too similar to save one but remove the other. However, our research perhaps has provided us with a solution. If the prudent, proper, and responsible use of other chemicals (such as imazamox or Raptor) helps keep highly productive grass/alfalfa fields in production, such efforts will certainly help our profit.
Pillar #2: Stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water
There is always going to be the argument that chemicals are bad for the soil. The arguments are plentiful both ways. But again, if our place is any example, our careful use of herbicides has apparently not deteriorated the soil, plant, and ecological health of our property, as suggested by the excellent diversity of grasses and forbs in our pastures and the favorable soil health tests. Although we have some weed issues, we strive to keep things in check.
With regard to nature and the environment, we have been told by Natural Resource and Conservation Service officials that we have wonderful ground cover on our fields and pastures. The abundance of wildlife and birds serves as proof that our farm offers wildlife habitat. Additionally, we were the recipients of the Lawrence County Conservation District’s Conservation Citizenship Award for 2019. In our humble opinion, our limited use of chemicals is thus sustaining both our operation and the natural environment.
Pillar #3: Quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities
Over the years, our customers have been and continue to be very satisfied with the products we sell them, particularly because they know that they are buying safe, noxious weed-free hay. The cow/calf producer whose cattle we pasture is also happy and satisfied with how his animals are growing because of the quality of our pastures. We’re certain there are those who could argue with what we are doing, but, all in all, the chemical IWM practices we are implementing are ensuring that our customers and community are satisfied with what we provide them. Thus, such efforts are sustainable.
Pillar #1: Profit over the long term
It probably goes without saying that the use of goats is beneficial. Our operation isn’t as potentially profitable as some others in that we don’t have the larger breeding numbers some producers have—in some cases, producers raise a number of animals and sell some after they are used for grazing. We have chosen to not have the large numbers but to keep a smaller herd for the specific purpose of having a group of “experienced” munchers. We have noted that the more efficient grazers are the younger stock. The advantage to having some older animals is they literally teach the younger ones the ropes: where to go, what to eat, what to avoid, and so on. But, much like humans, the older animals don’t eat as much.
Because we keep the same livestock and replace as necessary, we maintain our herd through the non-grazing time of the year (i.e., winter). That means our goats need to be fed but, as previously mentioned above, we have a supply of non-marketable hay so we essentially use a product we don’t want to sell anyway. The goats do get a small, daily ration of grain, annual immunizations, and veterinary care as needed to maintain healthy body conditions, but that is an expense we are willing to absorb for the sake of the health of the animals.
The alternative to not having the goats would be to utilize more chemicals to control weeds after the cattle have grazed an area or use mechanical means like mowing to reduce seed production. Some places, however, are difficult and unsafe to get machinery into so goats serve a valuable purpose there. In the end, are our goats profitable? We would say they earn their keep.
Pillar #2: Stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water
There is little to no argument that goats are good for the environment (with the possible exception of the methane issue, but we’re not going there). Goats utilize forage that is, otherwise, not marketable. They provide a great natural fertilizer—we compost their bedding to be spread back onto the fields, for instance. And they keep problem weeds in check.
Pillar #3: Quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities
Let’s face it. Nearly everyone loves goats, except when they get out and eat your most valuable flowers, trees, shrubs, and prize garden produce. Anyway, they’re enjoyable to have around and visitors to our farm love to watch them. Overall, we feel we can check the “sustainability” box for our biological IWM practices.
Pillar #1: Profit over the long term
As with many mechanical IWM practices, mowing takes time and fuel. The obvious issue, at least from our practical experience, is that while mowing alone may control the spread of chicory because it reduces the seed producing flowers and, perhaps, the carbohydrate storage capacity of the weed, it does not eliminate the main problem, the presence of live chicory plants. The other concern is that, when a pasture or hayfield is mowed on a repeated basis to keep the chicory from flowering and maturing, the plant simply flowers at a lower height and has to be mowed at a lower level with each consecutive mowing. Whatever forage is cut off is probably not going to be consumed by livestock and certainly will not be harvested. If the weather conditions allow, hay could be cut and harvested before the first chicory flowers develop but, again, as we have seen, chicory recovers far faster than the grasses and other legumes. To avoid the chicory from developing a new set of flowers and going to seed, another round of cutting would have to take place before the grasses and alfalfa are ready for harvest. Thus, a subsequent cutting (hay crop) would not be harvestable.
Apart from mowing, a producer can hand pull the problem weeds in a field between cuttings if the field is small enough for that practice to be manageable. As our own efforts proved, this is an option. However, it takes time and manpower and is labor intensive.
In the end, all of this can affect the long-term profitability of an operation. Non-harvested hay does not generate income. Pasture forage cut and laid on the ground may not be consumed by the livestock. Mechanical control alone highly reduces potential income, and no income equates to less profit.
Pillar #2: Stewardship of our nation’s land, air and water
It could be said that, with mowing, no chemical needs to be applied to the ground. As we have seen, though, chicory that is mowed remains in the fields and pastures. If the mechanical means can be sustained, the plant population may be affected over time. This is not what we are practically observing, but it is theoretically possible.
The point here is defining “stewardship.” Are the mechanical practices environmentally-friendly? Other than fuel being consumed, one could argue that nothing else is harming the environment. But what if we consider another aspect of stewardship. Is the production and quality of the land being improved? Not so much. Repeated trips over a field with a tractor or other machinery can compact the soil, particularly if the mowing has to be done in wet soil conditions. What’s more, we have not seen a reduction in the chicory plant population by repeatedly mowing. We have, however, seen a reduction in native and tame grass and forage plants. If the stewardship goal is to improve the quality and productivity of the land, mechanical means alone may not do that.
Pillar #3: Quality of life for farmers, ranchers and their communities
As we’ve already noted, mechanical practices are time and labor intensive. They require the procedure to be done over and over. Taking all this into consideration, mechanical IWM practices have their place, but whether they improve the quality of life for the producer and create a sustainable operation would have to be a matter of opinion.
There is no need to even list whether any of the “3 Pillars of Sustainability” were satisfied by the way we tried to plant a cover crop this year (if you missed our flop of an attempt, read our last blog post!). That being said, cover crops, if done properly, can pay huge dividends and will meet the criteria of all three parts of the sustainability definition.
To reflect upon current and future preventative IWM practices, we can arguably say that our chemical and biological IWM practices are sustainable, while our mechanical IWM practices have proven to be less so. With luck, we will have a better planting season next year to be able to meet the sustainable qualities in our cultural IWM practices.
As far as the “3 Pillars of Sustainability” are concerned, the non-marketing of a portion of our harvest obviously affects our profit margins. However, if we can utilize those products ourselves and turn those products into forage for our weed-eating goats, the loss won’t be as apparent. While the outer buffer strip we’ve created is subjected to regular, annual IWM weed control measures and may never reach full production potential, the inner areas of our farm will hopefully remain closer to a noxious weed-free status and can be areas where we can realize fuller profit potential. The sacrifice offered by the buffer will make for a better return on the rest of our property. What’s more, by focusing the IWM practices on a smaller portion of our entire operation, hopefully fewer chemicals will be required and the remaining parts of our farm can remain healthier. Ultimately, we will be satisfied if our preventative efforts result in an overall productive, profitable operation, one that we will be able to sustain and manage for many years to come.
That’s all for now! Next month, we will finish up this year’s series of posts with a brief summary and a recap of any final research results. As always, 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 soon!
We finally had a break in the weather to get some hay harvested. After a number of 12 to 14-hour days, we’ve filled our hay shed, but that hasn’t given us much computer time. Then again, time in the field has given us a chance to think about what we wanted to share in this month’s update. For our August/Mid-September post, we are recapping what we’ve accomplished in each of our IWM areas. In the upcoming post at the end of this month, we will discuss the term “sustainability” and how our IWM operations are fulfilling what have been called the “3 Pillars of Sustainability.”
First, our recap…
As we’ve examined and evaluated the effectiveness of various herbicides and application rates in our test plots, all chemicals, except one, appear to have eliminated the chicory plant, as well as all broadleaf plants including clover. Most herbicides also took out the alfalfa. We recently noted, however, that the alfalfa is making a bit of a comeback on a few plots. Clearly, though, in the plots that had Panoramic 2SL (also marketed as Plateau) applied at a rate of 4 ounces per acre, the chicory, along with the alfalfa and clover, has been “sickened” but not killed.
We wondered why.
As we were writing our grant proposal, we stated in our project procedures that we would note what worked to raise cultivated chicory and would be cognizant of that when trying to control wild chicory. We wanted to determine if cultivated chicory and wild chicory behave the same. At least when it comes to a certain class of herbicide, the answer is maybe.
In reviewing previous research articles about controlling (and growing) chicory, we recalled that a particular group of chemicals has been determined to be safe to use in plots of cultivated chicory to remove unwanted weeds but not harm the chicory. A 2013 article published by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, for instance, highlighted the efforts of UNL professor Dr. Robert Wilson (now Emeritus Professor) in growing chicory and noted him remarking, “Early research also showed that the herbicide imazamox was safe to use on chicory…”
A quick search found many sites referencing that imazamox (marketed as the herbicide Raptor) has been recommended in the use of controlling unwanted weeds in wildlife food plots consisting of alfalfa, clover, and chicory. That led us to check into the chemical structure of imazamox (Raptor) to find if any similarities exist between it and Panoramic 2SL (Plateau). See below. The differences between the two are bolded.
The active ingredient in Raptor is 12.1% ammonium salt of imazamox: 2-[4,5-dihydro-4-methyl-4-(1-methylethyl)-5-oxo-1 H-imidazol-2-yl]-5-methoxymethyl-3-pyridinecarboxylic acid.
The active ingredient in Panoramic 2SL (Plateau) is 23.3% ammonium salt of imazapic: 2-[4,5-dihydro-4-methyl-4-(1-methylethyl) -5-oxo-1 H-imidazol-2-yl]-5-methyl-3-pyridinecarboxylic acid.
The two are almost identical, with the exception of imazamox (Raptor) versus imazapic (Panoramic 2SL) and 5-methoxymethyl (Raptor) versus 5-methyl (Panoramic 2SL). What’s more, Raptor is labeled for use to control weeds in plantings of chicory. A quick, deeper check into the label for Panoramic 2SL showed it is also to be used to control weeds in plantings of chicory.
Panoramic 2SL (Plateau) didn’t eliminate the chicory in our test plots because it wasn’t supposed to. For someone familiar with herbicides and, especially, someone knowledgeable of the plant physiology of chicory, this would probably be common knowledge. To novices like us, though, this is what could be referred to as an “aha moment.”
The lesson? When using herbicides, you really need to check the labels; in fact, it’s essential to read the labels so you know what you are using and whether you are using it correctly.
An issue we have is trying to control or eliminate unwanted weeds, namely chicory, in our grass/alfalfa fields without causing permanent harm to the alfalfa. We have learned that in multi-species plantings of alfalfa, clover, and chicory, all plants seem to be tolerant of certain types of chemicals. But is alfalfa more tolerant to a higher rate of certain chemicals than chicory is, even though chicory could survive the same chemical at a lower rate? Raptor, for example, lists safe treatments of up to 6 ounces per acre for alfalfa but only 4 ounces per acre for chicory. Could we take advantage of that and use a higher rate of Raptor in heavily chicory-infested grass/alfalfa fields and salvage the alfalfa but eliminate the chicory? Additionally, are there other herbicides that may produce similar results that haven’t even been labeled for alfalfa or chicory? We have already seen some indication of that in the other plots, as we’ve mentioned earlier.
Many stands of alfalfa in western South Dakota (ours included) are older stands with many plants being 15 to 20 (even more) years old and with deep tap roots. The chicory plants are typically younger, having more recently reproduced from seed or old growth. Research shows that, even if nurtured, chicory lives to five to seven years old. This is still younger, though, than decades’ old growths of alfalfa. Does that give alfalfa an advantage?
This sounds like a potential project for next year.
We talked with Mr. Paul Johnson (South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Weed Science Coordinator), our expert advisor for the project who is conducting the herbicide trials. We’re not certain about the rates and what types of chemicals might work but we will be planning some trials to see if we can eliminate the chicory from some of our grass/alfalfa fields but retain the alfalfa population. If we could accomplish that, such results would be a huge benefit to producers dealing with this problem.
It goes without saying that our herbicide trials are set for at least two years for specific reasons. One is so we can take into account all we have just mentioned and see what long term effects we observe next year. To finalize this year, we will be cutting the forage from the plots so we can get a better look at the new, ground-level growth next year. Next month, we will provide a full list of chemicals used in the trial and their associated results.
With regard to biological practices, our weed eating crew has been busy. We turned the boys out onto a small area that had been frequented by cattle last month when they came in for water and lounged around the windbreak for shade. The paddock is just under one acre in size and has been dedicated as somewhat of a “sacrifice area,” a place that is expected to get beaten up grazing wise. The weeds (chicory included) are often abundant because the area receives such heavy animal traffic.
This seemed like the perfect spot to do a monitored trial to determine the effectiveness of using goats to biologically reduce and control the weeds. It may be noted that we had originally intended to put the goats in another area earlier this year, but because of the wet weather (and the fact that the spot was under water for a while), that was not possible. We have been monitoring the regular pastures to see how the goats have grazed and have noted some good information. But this small plot finally offered us the chance to see what happens when goats are confined to a small area.
We knew from previous experience that animals can be trained to target a specific plant, and we hope that next year we will have a chance to do a more intensive grazing trial. But given the circumstances, rotating the goats into a pasture/plot that had been very recently utilized by other livestock (cattle) also provides good research data. This multi-species grazing practice is often recommended by grassland, range, and other grazing experts.
The boys did not disappoint. As can be seen from the following before and after photos, they made a significantly impact that prevented the chicory from producing seeds. Even though the actual chicory plant still existed after the goats were rotated out of the plot, the number of seed-producing flowers was greatly reduced.
One caution: animals may control a plant, but it may take a long time for them to ultimately eliminate it, if ever. As we mentioned in our last blog, anytime you remove livestock for an extended time from an area that has been grazed, you can expect an influx of undesirable plants. Animals will do a good job of controlling things while they are present, but you must have a plan in place if the animals are taken off permanently. Things lurk below the soil surface just waiting for a chance to come alive, even in the best managed areas. This is a good reminder of why it’s important to employ as many of the IWM strategies as possible on your operation. Only one practice does not make a good weed control program!
Theoretically, consistently removing a plant’s reproductive sources (seed production and the ability of the plant to store nutrients in the roots) by mowing, grazing, or burning should cause the plant to eventually die off. As we have repeatedly mentioned, though, this is not entirely true. Although the repetitive mowing of chicory may keep it somewhat controlled, we still have yet to see proof that it will eliminate the plant. Some people maintain that the lifespan of chicory is two years. However, we have regularly seen new growth (and, presumably, new plants) emerge from old, existing, dying plants. Most living things want to propagate. Chicory is certainly no exception.
In our last blog, we mentioned that we would report on test trials of mowing at various heights to discover what, if any, effect those differences would have on the chicory. In a series of plots (each being about one-half acre in size) within a pasture that is currently being grazed by cattle, we mowed one plot at 3”, one at 6”, one at 9”, and one at 12”. The 3”, 6”, and 9” plots did not show much regrowth or development of flowers. However, the 12” plot showed a fair number of flowers reappearing. Granted, this mowing was done in early August when the rate of plant growth was noticeably slower. The cattle were in that area as well and likely consumed some of the grasses, but we didn’t notice much of the chicory eaten so we thought the plants were nearing the end of their growth cycle.
Even so, in mid-August, in another pasture with no animals, we mowed the chicory to about 8” in height and checked this same location about three weeks later. We were actually surprised at how this area showed new flowers. In the first week of September, therefore, we chemically treated the area.
Another mechanical practice we recently implemented is some hand-pulling of chicory from a grass/alfalfa field located near the county road. In the past, with what we had known and were familiar with, we just accepted the fact that the chemicals we were using to control the chicory in our hay fields would eliminate or, at least, greatly reduce the alfalfa population. In this particular field, we have a very desirable amount of alfalfa and we have been trying hard to keep the chicory from spreading into it. We have been employing a spot-spraying method rather than applying herbicide to the entire field. Still, new plants seem to find their way into the field.
Earlier, we harvested the hay before the chicory had flowered so we were comfortable that we could market that cutting of hay. Last week, we noticed that a number of chicory plants were again present and flowering. The second growth of alfalfa was coming nicely so we opted to walk the entire field and hand-pull anything we saw. We salvaged the alfalfa and now, weather permitting, we will have a nice second-cutting hay product to market. Since this is a small field (four acres), hand-pulling was something we could reasonably accomplish, even if it took us a few hours. But could we have done this on 40 acres? Not impossible but improbable.
The main cultural activity that took place this past month was the attempted incorporation of a cover crop in a weed-infested field. Part of the field was treated with a simple 2,4D chemical application (at a 1.7 pints per acre rate) to get the weeds knocked back but retain the grasses. The other part received no chemical treatment. Both sections were mowed to a plant height of about 8” to allow, in theory, the discs of the grain drill to get through the plants and provide seed-soil contact. Because of the small window of opportunity in the weather, the planting had to be done before the recommended 30 days’ period between application of the 2,4D and the planting of the cover crop (which included grasses and broadleaf plant varieties) had passed. We did not have access to a no-till drill so we decided that rather than broadcast the seed into the field, we would use our convention grain drill in a no-till fashion.
There are times when an idea sounds good but, in short, this was a complete failure! Part of the problem was there was too much plant residue on the ground after mowing and the discs of the conventional drill simply could not cut through to get the seed to the soil. In the end, we should have not done anything at all or waited to use a true no-till drill. At the very least, we didn’t risk the emergence of new weeds by using more aggressive tillage to remove the live plants and work in the remaining residue and then use the conventional drill. Regardless, this was a complete waste of time, fuel, money, and seed. Lesson learned!
We would still like to experiment with some cover crops but we will strive to do it using a true no-till system and proper timing of the herbicide application. The chemicals do provide us conventional operators with more options, but we feel planting cover crops could be an option for the organic producer to aid them in reducing weed population and, at the same time, improve soil health.
As in prior years, our primary preventative practice was not marketing the hay harvested from portions of our fields that had an unacceptable amount of chicory. Although we did chemically treat the fields first, for peace of mind we chose not to sell the hay.
The other new aspect is that we are making efforts to establish a buffer on our outside borders that will be areas that we can treat with herbicides as needed to keep unwanted weeds from invading further into the fields and pasture in which we have managed to get the noxious weeds under control and even eliminated. Until we develop a chemical alternative that will allow us to retain our alfalfa while treating the chicory and other weeds, it is expected that most of the buffer will either be grass pasture or grass hay only (with the hopeful exception of the four-acre field mentioned earlier). Some fields and areas in our pastures are nearly weed free. If we can keep weeds from invading further onto our property, we can keep the inner fields clean and not have to resort to repeated weed control methods.
Lastly, we very recently had an opportunity to present our project at a meeting of the South Dakota Weed and Pest Commission, which is comprised of council members appointed by the Governor and non-voting members from several state agencies. This group is the regulating authority for noxious weeds across the entire state. Also present at this meeting were members of the South Dakota Weed and Pest Association, which is the group that represents the South Dakota county weed and pest supervisors. Some members of this same group then came to the farm to actually see the research results we have accomplished on our farm. It was rewarding to share our efforts with these folks.
That’s all for our recap. Please stay tuned for the post coming up at the end of this month in which we discuss the term “sustainability” and how we are applying that concept to our operation. As always, 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 in a few weeks!
University of Nebraska, Lincoln. (2013). Root of the matter. Retrieved from https://weedscience.unl.edu/currentTopics/2013ChicoryRW.pdf/ (UNL has unfortunately removed this source from their website.)
…and we’re not talking about the weeds!
As with most projects, what is planned and what actually comes to fruition often doesn’t match up. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the project has hit a detour, so to speak. This has caused us to refocus our priorities for what we hope to accomplish this year and to re-examine our methods and goals for next year. In reality, these changes may actually turn out to be a good thing.
First, though, let’s start off with some good news! We have been notified that we are the recipients of this year’s Lawrence County Conservation Citizenship Award. We were selected because of the management practices we have been doing over the past several years, from cross fencing to installing livestock water lines to participating in this research project. We are honored and truly hope we are a good example for others to follow.
When we were contacted by the Conservation District about the award, we were also asked if we would be willing to host a group from the Pullman, Washington-based Phoenix Conservancy to show them some of what we are doing on our farm. The Phoenix Conservancy’s mission is to “restore endangered ecosystems globally for the communities that depend on them and the conservation of biodiversity.” Check them out at www.phoenixconservancy.org. A component of the organization has been working with the United States Forest Service in the Bearlodge Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest. We welcomed the opportunity. On Friday, July 19, 2019, we met with four members of the group whose focus is the biology of the ecosystem. We had a wonderful time, shared a lot of information, and learned so much! It was rewarding to receive confirmation that what we are doing is meaningful and is serving a bigger purpose. Thank you, Zindie from the Lawrence County Conservation District and Ben and his team from the Phoenix Conservancy!!
Now on to our research project…
Wet weather has slowed down many of the vital activities on the farm, most importantly, haying. We’re running out of time to get the harvest done, and that moves our focus on that to a critical stage. The broad scope of the research project—more specifically, the demand for our time to measure, monitor, and track everything associated with the original project—would not have been an issue had we experienced a normal year. However, too many things are now having to be done in the limited time we have remaining, and so, needless to say, realism dictates which jobs receive a higher priority.
That being said, the overarching purpose of the project continues to be to examine which of the five principles of Integrated Weed Management (IWM) produce the most realistic, long-term, sustainable solutions to deal with the invasive spreading and production-robbing nature of wild chicory. Our objectives have become more focused on what we will do this year and what will receive more attention next year.
That is not to say that nothing has been happening in the past month. Many, many aspects of the research have been ongoing. South Dakota State University’s chemical trials are continuing as initially planned and remain a key component to our overall project. Some interesting, noteworthy results are already being observed (see below for more on this). Mowing also continues on certain areas of our farm. The intent in doing these procedures is still to evaluate whether mechanical weed control is a viable, long-term solution to control chicory, should someone choose not to use herbicides. See below for some pointers.
One change that has occurred is that intensive grazing with the goats on specific test plots will be more of an emphasis next year. This year, we’ve been monitoring the goats on our farm’s pastures. Below, we will explain what we are seeing so far in the grazing practices we have routinely employed on the farm, all which give a fair indication of what we expect to see as the project moves forward.
Another change is that a stronger emphasis is now being placed on our farm’s overall soil health in the fields and pastures affected by the chicory. While maintaining our farm’s soil health has always been a concern for us, the redirection of the project affords us the opportunity to do some targeted analysis of what is really happening under the plant canopy. As such, the cultural aspect of the project will actually receive more emphasis than we first envisioned. Our premise has always been that it is not sufficient to merely maintain status quo on our farm while controlling the weed; rather, we aim to make certain that soil health does not suffer as we work to keep the chicory from spreading. In production agriculture, making certain that conditions absolutely do not suffer but actually improve can make a difference between staying in business for the short-term and promoting production and a livelihood well into the future.
On July 26, 2019, Paul Johnson (South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Weed Science Coordinator) paid a visit to the herbicide test plots. As noted in our last post, 16 different chemical applications were made to 32 plots. Nearly all the herbicides are showing early control of chicory with the exception of one, at least at this point. Even so, controlling the chicory should not be the only sufficient outcome for the ag producer. Other key elements are what the chemical does to the desirable vegetation present in the plant community and whether or not any chemicals require repeated applications because they have a short-term result but fail to produce long-term control. Those research results will not be evident until much later. Hence, the full list of chemicals and their associated impact on chicory will not be reported until more conclusive data is finalized.
Still, as noted in the second photo below, an interesting early result with one of the chemicals is its impact on the brome grass. In the test plots of that particular chemical, the grass is a full 12” taller than all the grasses in the other plots. There could be a couple of reasons. First, a characteristic of that particular herbicide is that it acts as a “growth enhancer” for certain grasses.
When applied at a higher rate than was applied on the test plots, this chemical is actually used to control grass in highway ditches around sign and delineator posts (the grass outgrows itself and dies because it cannot sustain the rapid growth). Within the test plot, however, the chemical was applied at a low rate and, presumably, the grass has been able to grow but maintain its health. Time will tell if the plants actually survive long-term.
On other chemical plots, the grasses were also slightly taller than in others. In those, a coincidental reason could be that the chemicals simply reduced the viable plants around the grasses, thus reducing the other-plant competition. The grass was then able to take advantage of the available moisture and nutrients and flourish. Is this a good thing? Not necessarily, especially if the nutrient-rich legumes are not harvestable. Such considerations are all part of the research and the real-world decisions producers have to make to determine what provides the most acceptable results to maximize a balance between weed control and valuable forage production.
Incidentally, the vinegar and ethanol trials have been suspended. Even with spraying the plots with an equivalent of 20 gallons per acre of both substances, absolutely no effect can be seen on the weeds. While this method may work on a small scale, such as along a driveway or garden fence line, it is not an effective, sustainable way to get any meaningful weed control on a larger-scale ag-production setting.
It has always been said that goats may not eliminate a weed but they will certainly control it. Very true! That is what we have been seeing on our farm for years. Even though we aren’t monitoring specific test plots this year, we can readily see what is happening in the pastures that the goats routinely graze, especially now that we are paying close attention to what the goats are accomplishing, albeit on a much larger scale. As previously noted, the tops of the weeds (the seed-producing parts) are generally eaten but the leaves stay fairly intact. A theory is that if the plant is controlled enough and is kept from producing seed (i.e., by an animal eating the seeds or seed-producing part of the plant), it will eventually die out. Thus, grazing equals weed elimination. We can state with certainty that as long as the goats are allowed to graze an area, nearly all the weeds will be kept under control. In the photos below, the evidence is clear that the goats will consume the tops of the plants and may even nibble a bit on the leaves. The propagation of seeds will definitely be reduced, and it is safe to say goats are a reliable control-targeted alternative.
However, be careful. We also found that if the animals are pulled from the area for an extended time period and no other control method is employed, the weeds may come back with a vengeance. Mowing may also keep the weeds at bay, but chicory is persistent and will likely become more prevalent, particularly because the goats have also done a fine job of fertilizing the ground they were grazing on. Case in point, we took an area that had been goat pasture and fenced it off to plant some trees. Soon thereafter, the chicory became so prolific we had to chemically treat the area to stop the spread of the weed. Mechanical means (mowing) may have kept the plants from producing an abundance of seed but the plant population definitely became a problem.
As with grazing, mowing can be an effective method to keep a plant from reaching the flowering stage. However, time and again we have been seeing that mowing is not a “one time and done” method. We have one test area that we have continuously mowed to keep the vegetation from growing too tall, yet a “healthy” population of chicory still resides in that space. We highlighted this same part of our farmyard in last month’s blog. We continue to mow it and have not applied any chemical treatment on it at all. In the photos below, it is clear that if the plants are left unattended, an undesirable amount of chicory will bolt and could soon produce flowers. The illustrated area was mowed less than two weeks ago. Obviously, it will be crucial to mow it again very soon.
The question still remains whether or not mowing alone can accomplish adequate control. Perhaps it can, but that depends. A determining factor is how much time a producer is willing to devote to mowing chicory in infested fields or pastures. As we all know, controlling weeds is one job on an ag operation but certainly not the only job. Another factor is whether the forage yield eventually realized by constantly mowing the plants off will be acceptable enough to warrant the routine mowing. A final factor is whether or not different cutting heights will make a significant difference in controlling the weed. We will have those results next month.
As mentioned above, the cultural aspect of IWM will now be receiving more emphasis in our project than we had originally planned. An added component will be laboratory-conducted soil health tests to measure the amount of organic matter and the full spectrum of nutrients available in our soils. We’ve been monitoring what is happening above ground with the ground cover but we really haven’t concentrated on what is going on below the surface. Good soil health includes both!
On July 30, 2019, Tanse Herrmann from the USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service office in Sturgis, SD, collected three soil tests in areas of our fields that have become infested with chicory and other weeds. These samples will be mailed to the lab and the results will be reported in next month’s blog. The question to be answered is whether there is a difference in soils that have an overabundance of weeds compared to an area that is relatively weed-free. The presumption is that the weed-infested ground isn’t as healthy overall. The lab tests will prove or deny that belief. Equally as interesting could be if the “clean” soil is found to be less healthy, i.e., has less organic matter and less fertility. In that case, we will need to determine why that may be. The results should be interesting!
Another addition to the cultural IWM is that we examined the physical makeup of the soils by doing a Rainfall Infiltration Test on the same areas. This test measures the ability of the soil to absorb an inch of rain, followed shortly thereafter by another inch, and whether or not the soil can utilize the water. Healthy soil can soak all the rain in, resulting in less runoff. Poor soil (ground that has adversely compromised soil structure, due to poor ground cover, compaction, or damaging tillage practices) can’t make use of the rain and, consequently, is more prone to drought conditions. A farm with poor soil can get a couple of inches of rain but can’t store it and the water runs away. In other words, the farm may as well have not received any rain at all.
We’re happy to report that our soil passed the tests! In the first test (taken in a non-weed infested portion of a grass pasture), the soil was able to absorb an inch of rain in 20 seconds. When the second inch of water was applied 15 minutes later, the water completely disappeared into the ground in 1 minute and 26 seconds. Range health standards tell us that the ground in this area of our farm has good structure and will be able to make use of even heavy rain. When that same test spot was dug up, the observations supported the theory. Healthy soil has the consistency of chocolate cake, and there should be signs of roots and organic matter mixed into the soil, as well as an ag producer’s friends, earthworms. The presence of earthworms should make every ag producer smile. In fact, tests have shown that worm poop is extremely nutrient-dense. In equal amounts of material, worm casts have 25 times more plant-usable nutrients than an equal amount of other material. Our soil in this part of the farm is in good shape!
Interestingly, we also did a Rainfall Infiltration Test in another cropland field where a significant population of undesirable plants has grown. To improve the production of the field, we very recently sprayed the field with 2,4D to reduce the weeds and we will be no-till planting a cover crop, hopefully, in the next week, weather permitting. In that field, the first inch absorbed in 26 seconds and the second inch (applied 15 minutes later) soaked away in 1 minute and 15 seconds (actually less time than the non-weedy pasture soil). The reason for this could be that the multispecies of plants (including weeds) actually opened up additional root channels for the water to soak into. This proves that a monoculture of one species of grass alone is not as desirable as a mixture of grasses and forbs, especially plants with taproots. Once we get the full spectrum of lab tests back, we may consider no-till planting a variety of pasture plants into the first grass pasture to provide a more diverse plant (and root) community.
Well, that’s all for this month! Please stay tuned for future news and research results. As always, 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!
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. The mowing will be monitored to determine which, if any, mowing procedures adversely affect the vitality of the chicory plant.
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 by removing the flower. We have measures planned for later in the growing season during which a cover crop of various plant species will be broadcast seeded into a weed-infested area that will have chemical applied to it prior to remove as much plant competition as possible.
Several sources have agreed that mowing alone 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 our fields? Not much! Will the varied mowing heights make a difference? That’s to be seen. The critical task is to monitor the chicory’s condition and make adjustments as necessary to meet the control goal.
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. 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. Even though most producers are cognizant of the effects of harvesting 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, the biological aspect (grazing with goats) has been ongoing. 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!
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?
Our project will use several of the methods described above. 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. 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 SARE-FUNDED SDSU RESEARCH 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.
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.
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.