My attention has been drawn to the problem of weed control facing farmers practicing organic farming. Firstly, am glad to see that farmers are now embracing organic agriculture; they do not only produce food profitably, but they are also now conscious of what they produce and the consumer’s health.
Weeds are one of the pests of huge economic importance in crop production. Although, they are of less importance in conventional or inorganic crop production due to the use of chemical compounds called herbicides.
The difference between organic and inorganic farming is the ways and methods through which the crops are produced. Organic farming produces crop naturally without the use of any synthetic planting aids; this is not the same in inorganic farming.
Hence, organic farming is the only safe way to produce food for the populace without threatening the health of the consumers and the environment.
In organic farming, the truth about weed control is, weeds cannot be eliminated but can only be managed. If you have the mindset of total eradication of weeds as a means to scale up your yield, then be ready to forfeit your farm profit and possibly incur more debts than expected.
Having discussed with organic farmers, online and offline, I have found strategies they have used in controlling weeds in their respective organic farms at low cost; these strategies do not eliminate weeds but manage weeds such that they do not impair the growth and the potential yield of the plants.
Before then, I need to let you understand the relationship between weeds and sown crops.
Weeds and crops are sown in the same area of land. You seeded the crop but nature seeded the weeds; in fact, the weed seeds are the resident of the plot. This is why they are aggressive when the environmental condition is favorable to their growth.
The favorable conditions are the ones you provide for your crops; they include fertilizer, enough water, and better air space; hence, as you take care of your crop you are indirectly taking care of the weeds.
The weeds and your crop grow simultaneously; as they grow, they compete for three things in the soil, they are:
The weeds are more “experienced” than your crops, hence at a particular period, they tend to outwit your crops and enjoy all the “bounties” you have provided for your crop. This period is called the critical period of weed control.
The critical period of weed control is the period in the life cycle of the crop that weeds need to be or must be eradicated to enable the crop grows optimally. It is the period where weed control is most effective; weeds that emerge aside from this period have little or no effect on the growth and yield of the crop. The critical period is usually at the point of flowering for most fruit crops.
Strategies for controlling weeds in organic farming
I am very sure you are familiar with this term but you may not know how it works, especially in the aspect of weed control. The principle of crop rotation is a powerful tool to enhance crop yield through weed control and fertilization of the soil.
Crop rotation is the cultivation of crops of different crops in a particular sequence on the same plot of land without compromising the expected yield from that crop. This practice has many benefits, one of such is weed control.
Each crop usually has some weeds that are commonly associated with them, an example is milkweeds and cassava; with crop rotation, the life cycle of the weed is disrupted. What this means is that; if you plant a crop say cassava on the first batch of your rotation and maize in the second batch, the weeds that emerge on cassava plot would not emerge on maize plot because you have distorted their life cycle, thus, weeds in maize farm would be minimal. This is how the rotation continues and the activities of weeds are kept at a level that is not injurious to the plants and yield over time.
Have known this particular strategy for long and it has been proven to control weeds either in an organic farm or inorganic farm.
Cover crops are crops that form shade on the surface of the soil; they are crops that grow to cover the soil surface as they grow. Examples of cover crops are Cowpea, sweet potatoes, clover to mention a few.
Cover crops prevent the photosynthetic activity of the weeds; these activities are very essential to their growth. All plants, including the weeds, need sunlight to manufacture their food; when this is disturbed, the plant becomes weak and stunted. Cover crops are best used in intercropping practices.
Care must be taken when intercropping crops; it has precautions. They are:
- Intercrop crops of different maturity period; like cassava and maize or plantain and maize
- Do not intercrop crops of the same feeding habit, like cassava and yam.
- Do not intercrop crops that belong to the same family, it helps reduces the risk of pest build up and diseases.
Aside from weed control, cover crops also help reduce the temperature of the soil and conserve the soil moisture, thus, providing enough water for the main crop.
Mulching is one of the effective ways of controlling weeds in an organic farm. In fact, I particularly love this strategy.
Mulching is the covering of the soil surface using dried materials like crop residues, straws, etc. in fact, have seen farms where sawdust was used to mulch the crop.
Mulching material is usually dry so that they do not germinate when they find favorable environmental conditions; I guess this was why the farm used sawdust as the mulching material.
Mulching does the work of cover crops; it also covers the soil surface, thereby preventing sunlight necessary for photosynthesis to take place. In addition, it makes water available to the plants and keeps the soil temperature at a beneficial level.
This simply means the land preparation method you practiced before planting your crops. There are different land preparation methods in agriculture. The best is the conventional land reparation method. This method helps to expose weed seeds to unfavorable conditions, thereby, reducing weed growth.
Proper spacing of crop
Adopting the proper spacing for your crops greatly helps to reduce weed competition as the crops grow.
For example, the recommended spacing of cassava is 1m by 1m; when this is adopted duly, the cassava starts suppressing weeds as early as 3 months because the leaves forms canopy that shades the weeds from the sun, hence, reducing their photosynthetic ability.
I deliberately did not mention the use of mechanical means such as weed slasher or hoe. This is because these methods are expensive and do not add to the farm revenue. These strategies increase farm revenue directly and indirectly.
Strategies like cover cropping and crop rotation increase the farm revenue directly as it produces more than a crop within the production year. The tillage system, mulching, and proper spacing increases the farm revenue indirectly by providing an environment that enables the crop produce optimally up to its genetic potential through the adequate water supply, proper feeding space, and favorable soil temperature
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