Most people would not combine soil health and weed control. South Dakota Soil Health Coalition put on a soil health soil in Aberdeen, SD on September 21 through 23. Many farmers, ranchers and area agronomy professionals attended the meeting. This event is growing each year. Make sure to attend next year or visit the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition website for up-to-date information.
Weed control and soil health do go hand in hand
With the rise of herbicide resistant weeds not just on the horizon but in your fields, farmers want answers. Most have turned to a new herbicide in the past and present. “Anytime producers do the same thing year after year the earths ecosystem finds a way around it to make it more diverse” said Dr. Dwayne Beck. Without this diversity, monoculture farming may give way to a possible proliferation of curtain weed species. This means a potential increase in weed species anytime monoculture crops are planted. Many options are still within the hands of producers to control weeds with herbicides. This, however, is not sustainable in the long term particularly with the products available in the market today. Herbicides were meant to be just a tool for weed control not the answer to weed control.
More Weed Control Options
At the soil health school, many options were discussed about weed control that did not include spraying herbicides or tillage. Those alternatives were crop rotation, cover crops and livestock integration. They all help soil health by increasing organic matter, soil biology, and water infiltration. Soil health principles include: armor on soil surface, very limited soil disturbance, plant diversity, soil covers and livestock integration. If there is armor on the soil surface such as organic matter or a cover crop, then weed seed germination and competition will be limited. With increased soil disturbance (including any tillage) comes more weeds, colder soils and dryer soils than in no-till fields. Livestock integration can elevate the need for pasture, but can increase soil health and decrease weeds in your operation through grazing at the proper time in your rotation.
Crop rotation of many monoculture crops with integration of cover crops can be the best way to deal with weeds, especially herbicide resistant weeds. Finding the right crop or cover crop to compete with a curtain weed is the best option available instead of always reaching for that herbicide in your barn. Each producer must customize their rotation to fit their local ecosystem. Crop rotations change but the principles do not. These top principles are: proper water utilization intensity throughout year and adequate diversity. For more information about crop rotation benefits visit the Dakota Lakes Research Farm website and under the publication tab read the article: Managing Agricultural Ecosystems by Dwayne Beck Ph.D.