September 15, 2013

Nature abhors a weed vacuum

I recently held a field meeting during which I and a small group of farmers and graziers walked through lush pastures of grasses, clovers and of course … weeds. I’d like to think that my pastures are in the reduced weed variety but I don’t know if there is such a thing as weed free. Adaptable, fast growing, tough to eradicate and extremely competitive, weeds are some of nature’s toughest customers.

Anyone who has ever planted a vegetable garden knows what I’m talking about. If only our vegetable crops and forages would grow this persistently. What we need to understand from the start is that weeds are a natural part of the environment and that we will never get rid of all of them. What the dedicated grazier aims for is management of weeds to reduce their impact on the productivity of the more favorable forages. There are several ways to manage weeds to enhance the growth of pasture grasses and other forages.

This is defined as Integrated Weed Management, an economically and environmentally sound approach to weed management. An integrated approach involves scouting, prevention and control in a coordinated plan.

The first step to reducing weeds in your pastures is prevention. By regular scouting of your pastures, you will be able to estimate the quantity of forage available and identify the number of weeds, the species present and the severity of your weed problem. Management should focus on controlling the dominant weeds and preventing the spread of less common weeds. Knowing what types of weeds are dominant and applying the required management is key to improving pasture conditions for desired forages.

Most weeds are spread by seed, so anything you do to keep weed seeds from getting onto your soils will reduce potential weed pressure. Weed seeds can be transported in purchased hay, grass seed, mowing equipment or dispersed by the wind or wildlife. Many weed seeds will pass unharmed through the digestive tracts of birds, wildlife and livestock, thus being spread far from the seed source. Keeping hedgerows and roadways mowed and clean of noxious weed seed sources will help to reduce local seed production.

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