Scientists Zone in on Precision Weed Control

UF/IFAS researcher Nathan Boyd discusses weed control during 2016 Florida Ag Expo field tour
UF/IFAS researcher Nathan Boyd discusses weed control in vegetables with fumigants during his portion of the 2016 Florida Ag Expo Plant Health field tour.
Photo by Paul Rusnak

For vegetable growers, weeds are a bane and a pain. However, University of Florida scientists believe they can surgically strike out weeds that get in the way of vegetable growth by using a combination of fumigants.

UF/IFAS researchers have shown farmers can place fumigants in specific zones, rather than using a single treatment for every situation. For example, fumigants applied to a specific area where weed seeds germinate can reduce the number of weeds that grow. Researchers say this will help growers as they try to manage pests in areas where they cause the most trouble.

As a rule, growers manage pests by injecting fumigants into soil at the bottom of a raised bed to kill pests and pathogens in the bed of the soil. For the past several years, UF/IFAS researchers have worked to develop management zones.

“The concept of management zones is novel for Florida but also for other regions across the U.S.,” stated Nathan Boyd, a UF/IFAS Associate Professor of weed science. “For weed control, we are suggesting that you apply it close to the surface where the weeds grow.”

According to existing UF/IFAS research, nutsedge reduces pepper yield by about 70%, and it can cut tomatoes by 50%.

For the past several years, Joe Noling, a Professor of nematology at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center; Gary Vallad, an Associate Professor of plant pathology, and Boyd – both at the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center – have worked on developing the management zones for soil fumigants.

In a new study, which is scheduled to be published soon in the journal Crop Protection, UF/IFAS researchers adequately controlled weeds with a combination of dimethyl disulfide and metam potassium.

“If you control the weeds with the fumigants, there is no need to apply herbicides,” Boyd concluded. “The key is better use of pesticides, which can result in an overall reduction in pesticide use.”

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