End of Year 1 Review
Now that we have the first year of our two-year SARE/SDSU Integrated Weed Management (IWM) project under our belt, we can reflect on what we learned, what worked, what didn’t, and what we plan to do next year. While we learned many things, we would like to summarize for you the three key lessons we realized. Using those examples, we would also like to outline some of the main objectives for next year’s project activity.
(If you want more information on the points made here, you can read the individual blogs that covered the information in more detail.)
The all-encompassing thought that clearly stood out at the end of this year was the fact that, after many years of working our farm—raising crops, grazing livestock, and working to control unwanted weeds—we really thought we knew the basic principles of IWM. That may have been somewhat true. But we now realize that we didn’t truly comprehend the total IWM package, that is, how the five individual principles work together and, more importantly, how they need to be used together.
One of the crucial first-steps in implementing IWM into any operation is doing an assessment of the weed problem. In our mid-May blog (“The FAQs of IWM”), we explained how the assessment process is accomplished. At the end of our first year of research, we realized that this first step is far more crucial than just checking the box to say it is done. The act of assessing is an ongoing process. We’re doing that but, in reality, we could be doing more, with regard to really studying the problem, reading about what other growers have experienced, and fully studying others’ research.
When it comes to controlling chicory, as with any plant, it has certain physiological characteristics. Certain things make it grow or fail to thrive. This year, we found spraying the plant too early or too late can have the same result, as in a poor result. We also found that using goats and cattle to graze the plant too young may yield poor results. The taste of the young leaves may be too bitter to attract the livestock. It may be difficult to encourage them to eat the weed instead of the tender, early-growth grasses or more tasty plants. Waiting until the chicory plant bolts (develops a stem) may actually provide a better chance of controlling it.
One thing that agricultural producers (and other plant-growing professionals) know when using herbicides is to read the chemical’s label information, that multi-page document typically glued to the herbicide container that has no shortage of small print, text and charts. It isn’t light reading, but it’s important material. We learned that when we found one chemical in our herbicide trial that didn’t have any effect on the chicory. As noted in our mid-September blog (“Recording Results”), we found it important to not only study the safety precautions and application rates but to look at the chemical makeup as well. This was a simple lesson to remind us that herbicides are plant specific. One must take the time to fully read the instructions.
Each of the five IWM practices (mechanical, chemical, cultural, biological, and preventative) has its benefits and short comings. Our experience from this past year’s research intentionally focused on each distinct IWM element in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of each of those elements and to find what does and doesn’t work. That goal was a success; we now understand more fully the pros and cons of each IWM element. The successes and failures are highlighted in our previous blog posts from this year. We will use those lessons to move forward into next year, particularly as we expand our efforts to a more comprehensive research process.
Along with the objectives of the goal mentioned above, we tried to find weed management options for both conventional and organic producers. We found that conventional methods, those practices that incorporate chemical options into their programs, had more tools that could be used. We knew that. We also knew there would be more challenges for an organic grower, particularly if they didn’t want to use chemicals and wanted to avoid tillage, a basic means to control weeds in many organic operations. At the end of this year, it was even clearer to us that organic operations face some serious challenges. We have some ideas for next year; more on this later.
Our third lesson was we found there are objectives and goals that go beyond just controlling an unwanted weed. The overall health of an agricultural operation involves more than removing a noxious plant. Things such as soil health, ground cover, field production, profitability, and the producer’s quality of life also need consideration. In our end-September blog (“The Question of Sustainability”), we addressed these concepts. It likely will benefit us to review that information from time to time, as it’ll help keep us focused on why we are doing what we are doing.
Moving Forward into