Weed management is a necessary part of any small farming operation. Weeds can suck up water and nutrients and cramp sprouting crops and their roots. A 2016 study by the University of Kansas found that if left unchecked, weeds would cut corn and soybean yields in half and cause $43 billion worth of agricultural losses each year in the United States and Canada.
To get the best yields for their labor and acreage, farmers must figure out the most efficient and effective way to remove these plants from their fields.
Farmers have a few different options when it comes to weed removal, but propane flame weeding is a promising and effective one. Propane flame weed control offers many benefits over conventional herbicides and mechanical weed removal methods, from its ease and efficiency of use to its relative environmental friendliness.
But what is flame weeding, and why is it so useful for small farms? We’ll outline the answers to these questions below.
Flame weeding is a safe, effective way to control weeds in your fields. With flame weeding, farmers can eliminate weeds using propane-propelled flames rather than using pesticides to kill them. The heat of the flame weeder, which can reach 2000 degrees, ruptures the plant cell walls and makes it impossible for them to survive.
Flame weeding kills many annual weeds for good. Perennial weeds, though, will spring up again because of the roots that remain in the soil. So perennial weeds need a couple of flame-weeding treatments per growing season. Eliminating the top part of the plant will eventually cause the roots to stop producing new plants.
Many people wonder if flame weeding is safe for their crops. The answer is yes — if you use your flame weeder strategically. Using a flame weeder to kill weeds located below the areas of growth on your plants is safe and effective. You can also use flame weeding to weed your fields early, before your seedlings have started to come up, or late, after the harvest, to prepare for the next spring.
Flame weeding has been around for quite some time. It was in use as early as the 1800s and gained popularity throughout the 1960s, with up to 30,000 U.S. farmers using flame-weeding methods during that decade. However, the widespread availability of conventional herbicides dramatically diminished the market for flame weeding. Recently, as many farmers have looked for greener alternatives to harmful pesticides, many have turned to flame weeding as an environmentally friendly, effective, and convenient method of weed control.
Flame weeding involves the use of a propane-fueled flame weeder. Typically, the weeder consists of torch ends and burners connected to a propane tank. A flame weeder can be a handheld torch with a propane tank attached, or it can consist of torches and burners connected to a propane tank mounted onto the back of a tractor.
To use a flame weeder, slowly move the flame along the areas where the weeds are. Just a tenth of a second of exposure to the flame is enough to kill the weeds, so walking or driving slowly down your rows — a speed of three or four miles per hour works well — while pointing the flames at your weeds is usually enough to do the trick. The flames do not set the plants on fire, but they do kill the plants with their high heat.
Farmers use several flame-weeding techniques, including:
Weeding at the beginning of the growing season, when most of the weeds have emerged but are still small, is often a good idea. A second or third weeding is often necessary to kill perennials that have come back.
Once you have weeded, you should see the appearance of the weeds change substantially. They should lose their luster and become drab. One trick is to wait until the weeds have cooled and then pinch one between your finger and thumb. If you can see your thumbprint on the leaf surface, you’ll know the flame weeding has worked.
Of course, you’ll want to refrain from using a propane flame weeder if the fire danger in your area is high. You should always point your flame weeder away from any deadfall or other dry brown organic matter that could catch fire. You should also check to make sure flame weeders are permitted in your area before using one.
Flame weeding is just as effective as traditional herbicide and mechanical weeding methods. Additionally, it offers several benefits that these other weed control methods cannot:
Flame weeding provides substantial benefits for small farming operations:
Propane, a liquified petroleum gas (LPG), is a byproduct of natural gas processing and petroleum refining. It is an excellent fuel solution for flame weeders for a variety of reasons:
Shipley Energy has been in business for over 85 years. In that time, we’ve developed a reputation for high-quality service, simple relationships, and useful advice. We want our customers and their farms to succeed, and we want to give them the best tools possible for making that success a reality.
Shipley Energy offers customized pricing to fit every farm’s needs, including fixed, market, and capped-rate structures. We are happy to talk to you to help you figure out the right propane pricing structure for your operation. We also offer convenient, reliable propane delivery straight to your farm.