By Janan Lenzy, NFU Intern

Climate change been the cause, both directly and indirectly, of various challenges for agricultural producers. This list includes extreme droughts and floods, irregular growing seasons, animal and crop disease transmission, and pest migration. Another seemingly perpetual issue exacerbated by climate change is weed growth.

Weeds are invasive plant species genetically equipped to quickly adapt to and thrive in altered environmental circumstances. Their ability to disperse a large quantity of seeds long distances and germinate promptly enables them to establish themselves quickly and outcompete other vegetative species, such as crops. Although weeds have always been a nuisance, a University of Massachusetts Amherst associate professor suggests that climate change has fueled the spread of invasive species by presenting them with favorable conditions for weed growth and by compounding the difficulties of pest management.

Farmers and ranchers employ numerous land management practices to inhibit the growth of weeds. A popular option historically has been soil tillage. Tilling loosens the soil to uproot weeds and other undesired species, while adding soil organic matter in the process. Other benefits of tilling include enhancing seed placement beneficial to seedbed preparation for crops, infusing nutrient supplements like fertilizer into the soil, and aeration of the soil which is useful when there is an abundance of moisture. This method can be time consuming, yet immediately effective in terms of weed control. However, there are negative offsets to tilling that farmers may not be aware of.

For one, tillage disturbs soil structure, releasing sequestered greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Additionally, tillage removes quality organic matter from the soil that would otherwise provide nutrients and moisture as well as suppress the establishment of weeds. According to Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach, loosening the soil also increases the risk of surface runoff and soil erosion, ultimately leading to soil organic matter and nutrient loss. This, in turn, can decrease yields and contaminate nearby surface water.

With the accumulating pressures of climate change, agricultural producers should carefully consider which risk management practices to employ on their farming operations. One should weigh the many costs and benefits of tillage, as outlined above, before determining if it is the right weed control method for an operation.

Over the course of the upcoming weeks, we’ll be discussing several other land management practices that can control weed growth. Similar to tillage, each practice results in some positive and negative offsets.

What land management techniques do you use on your land to combat invasive plant species? How beneficial and effective has it been? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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