Organic farming’s biggest challenge tackled in UGA’s “Biology of Weeds” conference session
“The climate here in Georgia makes weeds and weed management one of our toughest production challenges,” says Michael Wall, Director of Farmer Services at Georgia Organics.
Dr. Nick Basinger, Assistant Professor of Weed Science in UGA’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, knows this challenge well – and he’s ready to speak about it during his session, “Know Your Enemy: The Biology of Weeds” at the Georgia Organics Conference.
With a background in the organic and biodynamic world, as well as years of research at North Carolina State and University of Georgia, Basinger has seen firsthand how much time these farms spent battling weeds.
“Growers have a lot on their plate in terms of production challenges, but for many organic growers, weeds are their biggest problem,” says Basinger. “It’s important to understand when to implement weed control practices, and the potential losses they could have if they don’t”.
Basinger says that the timing of the Georgia Organics Conference is perfect for this discussion.
“Come February, farmers are going into a critical time of the year,” he says. “If farmers can have weed control as part of their plan of action, they can essentially start with a cleaner field before some of the more challenging times later in their season”.
Basinger’s approach prioritizes understanding the ecological factors behind why certain weeds are located where they are in the field. “Don’t stick a bandaid on it and say we’re going to cultivate these out – instead, get to the root of the problem,” he explains.
Using timed tillage or planting, based on when weeds sprout, can have “a huge impact in the amount of weed control farmers have to implement,” says Basinger. It’s all about protecting crops when they are most vulnerable.
“A big focus of my program is talking about integrated weed management,” says Basinger. “It’s analyzing all the different ‘little hammer’ management practices to get to an integrated approach”. This includes integrating controllable factors (row spacing, planting day, seeding rate) and uncontrollable factors (rainfall, temperature) to manage weeds most effectively.
Michael Wall agrees that this sort of advance planning. “Understanding more about the biology of weeds, when and how they will seed out and spread, can allow our growers to be much more proactive, and can let them deal with their weed problems before they get out of hand”.
“It’s important to have an understanding of what weeds are going to be problematic when, and which weeds are the most competitive,” says Basinger. To help farmers work on their weed identification, the first step toward understanding plant biology, Basinger will also bring resources from books to weed ID apps.
For the farmers who struggled with weeds last year, Basinger advises them to stay two steps ahead this year. “Weeds are pre-programmed to come up at a certain time, persist, and go to seed at a certain time,” he adds. “But if you can understand their biology, you can understand what their Achilles Heel is”.