New SARE Video: Managing Weeds in Organic Row Crops

January 27, 2023

Farmers have long relied on herbicides to control weeds in row cropping systems. But as consumer preferences change, many farmers are seeking to eliminate or reduce their use of synthetic herbicides where possible. Managing weeds without herbicides can be daunting, and it requires producers to understand the biology and behavior of problem weeds in order to develop control strategies that exploit their weaknesses.

In two new videos from SARE, Charlie Johnson shares how he and his family control weeds on 1,600 acres of organic corn and soybeans in Madison S.D. Ecological Weed Management at Johnson Farms and Managing Weeds in Organic Corn and Soybeans are the first in a series of new SARE videos featuring farmers who use various strategies to control weeds without herbicides. 

In Ecological Weed Management at Johnson Farms, Johnson explains how late planting, patience, diversity and a six year crop rotation all play a role in managing weeds on his farm. “There is no such thing as a weed-free organic field, and there’s no such thing as a weed-free farm,” says Johnson. But using alfalfa as a smother crop has largely eliminated Canada thistle, and planting later in the season has allowed him to control early flushes of weeds and to encourage quick emergence that helps corn and beans outcompete weeds.

Managing Weeds in Organic Corn and Soybeans illustrates how a custom rotation leverages diversity to manage weeds. 1,600 acres of corn, soybeans, oats and alfalfa are divided into six equal portions. Oats are planted as a nurse crop, followed by two years of alfalfa hay. Row crops follow, with a year of soybeans followed by corn and then a final year of soybeans. Cover crops, pre- and post-emergence tillage and manual field monitoring helps control weeds throughout the cycle.

All videos in this series may be used with attribution for fair use purposes. Other producers featured in the series include:

Cover of Manage Weeds on Your Farm featuring a tractor in a field.

The Manage Weeds on Your Farm Video Series is a companion to SARE’s Manage Weeds on Your Farm, a definitive guide to understanding agricultural weeds and how to manage them efficiently, effectively and ecologically. Manage Weeds on Your Farm shows you how to outsmart your weeds by identifying the right tactic for the right weed at the right time, which will reduce as much as possible the labor required, while ensuring your weeds don’t impact crop yields.

Topics: Organic Agriculture, Pest Management, Weed Ecology
Related Locations: North Central, Northeast, South, South Dakota, West