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Opting for Excellence: Propane Flame Weeding on Small Farms

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.

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What Is Flame Weeding?

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.

How Does Flame Weeding Work?

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:

  • Banded flaming: Banded flaming focuses on the center of the crop row, and it treats a band of weeds about a foot in width. This technique uses about five gallons of propane per acre.
  • Full flaming: Full flaming treats a band of weeds about 30 inches wide and consumes about 10 gallons of propane per acre.
  • Broadcast burning: Farmers typically use broadcast burning in the fall, after harvesting. Broadcast burning clears out the weeds in preparation for the next spring so that fewer weeds will come up and compete with the young crops. This technique typically uses 20 or 30 gallons of propane per acre.

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 Vs. Herbicides and Other Weed Control Methods

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:

  • Environmental benefits: One of the primary advantages of flame weeding over herbicides is its environmental friendliness. This quality is crucial for organic farmers, who must grow their crops without the use of most pesticides and herbicides. But it’s a growing concern for all types of farmers. Traditional herbicides can have damaging effects on the environment, including poisoning beneficial insects that act as pollinators on the farm. Using propane flame weeders helps avoid these detrimental ecological effects.
  • Turnaround time: With weed control methods such as herbicides, farmers must often wait to go back into their fields to avoid poisoning themselves along with their weeds. With flame weeding, there’s no danger to the farmer and no necessary waiting time. Farmers can go right back to working in their fields without putting their health and safety at risk.
  • Weather: Unlike traditional herbicides, flame weeding can be used in all weather conditions. Traditional herbicides are less effective in the rain because the rain washes them away and are often ineffective when the ground is wet or muddy as well. Flame weeding is effective in wet conditions, though it may take a bit more work. Though it’s always more pleasant to work outdoors when the weather is nice, you can use flame weeding in wet weather if you’re in a pinch.
  • Low maintenance: Instead of turning to traditional herbicides, some farms, such as small organic farms, use equipment like rotary hoes and cultivators instead. Flame weeding offers an advantage over these methods because it’s quick and easy to use. Mechanical equipment contains many moving parts that may break down, require maintenance, and cost farmers hours of labor in the field. Flame weeders are much less likely to break down.
  • Minimal labor: On small farms that rely on manual labor rather than mechanized labor for weeding, weeding even a small field can be hot, frustrating, and back-breaking work. Flame weeders eliminate the need for that labor and make the job of weeding much quicker and easier.
  • Minimal soil disturbance: Mechanical weeding methods typically disturb the soil as they pull weeds out of the ground. Though these methods accomplish the necessary task of removing weeds, they can have detrimental effects on the plants. Soil disturbance can keep vital nutrients and water from getting to the plants, slowing their growth. It also cultivates other weed seeds, which will eventually sprout and grow. Flame weeding leaves the soil untouched. So the nutrients and water contained in the soil go straight to the growing plants, and weed seeds remain uncultivated. This retention of nutrients and water helps the crops grow and decreases the need for irrigation.
  • Added nutrients: Unlike other methods like herbicides, which add contaminants to the soil, flame weeding can add nutrients to the soil. Using flaming on organic matter yields carbon, which can be absorbed back into the soil. Replenishing the soil with carbon helps provide additional fuel for the growing crops.
  • Complete coverage: As with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which develop immunities to the drugs meant to eradicate them, over time, some weeds develop resistance to the chemicals meant to destroy them. But no crops are flame-resistant, especially to flames that can reach 2000 degrees. Using a flame weeder rather than conventional herbicides allows you to root out even the most stubborn and resistant weeds.
  • Insect and larvae reduction: Generally, when farmers use chemicals on their crops, they use herbicides for weed control and separate pesticides for pest control. Flame weeding kills insects and larvae along with weeds in a single application.

Does Burning Weeds Work?

does burning weeds work?

Flame weeding with propane has repeatedly proven its effectiveness as a weed control method. Due to its chemical-free properties, it’s a popular choice among organic farmers. The effects of flame weeding have been studied under controlled conditions to gather conclusive data. The results indicated that the weed control method showed visibly fewer unwanted weeds with little to no adverse effects on the growing plants. Other observational studies show that flame weeding is an effective treatment in vegetation control.

Overall, flame weeding has a substantial impact on just the crops you want to eliminate. The differences in growing points between the weeds and the crops ensure flame weeding only affects the unwanted plants and does so from the root. Flame weeding requires a level of caution and expertise to ensure the heat is high enough to kill unwanted plants without scorching them or the crops you want to keep alive.

That’s why, when done right, flame weeding is a useful method that safely does the job.

The flame weeding method is also useful because it reduces the number of passes needed for a growing crop area. Using this method, farmers can take care of their excess weed problems with one thorough pass. In contrast, a more conventional method like herbicide weed control often requires several passes for effective results.

Burning weeds with propane flames is also cheaper in the short and long term. With the proper equipment from the start, your only expense is the replacement of your propane tank. As a method that’s both inexpensive and environmentally conscious, flame weeding ensures that crop control remains attainable and valuable.

The method’s appeal lies in how it works on a molecular level. Using high temperatures on the unwanted weeds directly affects their cell structure by preventing their ability to photosynthesize and accelerating their death. This quick change offers farmers a quicker and more cost-effective method for controlling vegetation than using tools to pluck weeds.

Using flame weeding to afford your crops a more controlled way to grow is extremely effective. It’s also one of the oldest methods for weed control and it’s making a comeback on a larger scale in recent years. Burning weeds is useful as a way to maintain your crops the way you want them.

The Benefits of Flame Weeding for Small Farms

Flame weeding provides substantial benefits for small farming operations:

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Why Propane Is the Best Fuel Solution for Flame Weeders

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:

  • Nontoxicity: Propane is nontoxic and will not harm the nearby crops, soil, water, people, or plant or animal life.
  • Eco-friendliness: Propane is a fossil fuel, but the EPA’s Clean Air Act encourages its use because it produces such minimal emissions in comparison to other fossil fuels like gasoline. Alternative fuels like propane do not contribute to pollution or to the warming of the planet to the extent fuels like gasoline do.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Recent data on fuel prices shows propane at about seven cents more per gallon than gasoline and 21 cents less per gallon than diesel. Using propane-fueled flame weeding is easy on the budget — farmers will not have to cut corners in other parts of their operations.
  • No spillage: Propane has an extremely low boiling point of about -44 degrees Fahrenheit. So unlike gasoline and diesel, propane immediately becomes a gas when uncompressed. This useful property means farmers cannot accidentally spill propane onto their fields.
  • Simplicity: Because of propane’s low boiling point, it does not require a carburetor or other such device to work. The low boiling point of propane also helps eliminate the temperature issues that can occur with gasoline. Gasoline does not evaporate quickly in cold temperatures, so it can sometimes perform poorly in the cold. Propane vaporizes immediately and will not cause issues in cold weather.

Partner With Shipley Energy for Propane for Flame Weed Control

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.


Contact Shipley Energy for Propane for Your Farm

Contact Shipley Energy for Propane for Your Farm

Contact us today, either by phone or online, to learn more about our services or to schedule propane delivery.

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Customer Testimonials

Amber Lipkowski

I wanted to let you know that Shipley did fantastic this season. As we wrap up our season THIS weekend (yay!!) I can’t explain to you how nice it was not to worry about propane. So much time was saved on my part not having to check tanks prior to a weekend, and Saturday night to make sure we’d m...

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I wanted to let you know that Shipley did fantastic this season. As we wrap up our season THIS weekend (yay!!) I can’t explain to you how nice it was not to worry about propane. So much time was saved on my part not having to check tanks prior to a weekend, and Saturday night to make sure we’d make it through Sunday. What a relief. Thanks again!

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Amber Lipkowski
TJ Leedy

Reliable propane supply is essential for us to be able to provide a comfortable and healthy environment for our turkeys.  With Shipley prompt delivery and service is always just a call away with the ability to talk to a real person and not just a answering service. ...

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Reliable propane supply is essential for us to be able to provide a comfortable and healthy environment for our turkeys.  With Shipley prompt delivery and service is always just a call away with the ability to talk to a real person and not just a answering service.  The remote tank monitoring with automatic delivery is a easy way to ensure you never run out of propane.  Shipley is the only propane supplier that I recommend to my turkey growers.

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TJ Leedy
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