May 5, 2021Summer Sanitation Is Important as Ever
To contact John Palumbo go to: jpalumbo@ag.Arizona.edu
It is much easier to kill weeds when there is no crop in the field and now is a good time to reduce the seed bank of summer annual weeds in fallow fields. Weed seeds are buried at variable depths in the soil, some have hard seed coats and there are other variables that cause them to germinate over a long period of time. If they all came up at the same time they would be much easier to control. It takes time, therefore, to repeatedly irrigate, germinate and kill weeds with either tillage or herbicides. We have conducted trials that indicate that in most years summer annual weeds begin to germinate in February, reach a peak in June but continue to germinate into October.
Proper timing of tillage to kill weeds can be important with some species. Some weeds like common Purslane are very succulent and can remain viable for several days after cultivation or hoeing. They can reroot at the nodes and continue to grow if they are allowed to get too big before they are uprooted. Growers sometimes allow early emerging weeds to get fairly big in an effort to germinate as many seeds as possible. Incorporating large amounts of organic matter into the soil can also have a negative effect on some preemergent herbicides used in vegetables. Many of the root and shoot inhibitor herbicides like Trifluaralin, Pendimethalin, Benefin, DCPA and others can bind to organic matter and be less available to kill weeds.
Tillage has the opposite effect on perennial weeds such as nutsedge and bermudagrass than it has on annual weeds. These weeds are spread vegetatively and repeatedly irrigating and tilling them will spread rather than kill them.
Both contact and systemic herbicides are used during fallow periods to control weeds. The contact herbicides include Paraquat (Gramoxone, Firestorm), Carfentrazone (Aim, Shark), Pyraflufen (ET), Pelegonic Acid (Scythe),Glufosinate (Rely,Liberty) and others. Some of the advantages of these are that they are quick and have no soil residual allowing crops to be planted soon after application. Disadvantages are that they are effective primarily only on small weeds.
The most commonly used systemic herbicide for fallow ground is Glyphosate. It is broad spectrum and has no soil residual. Many of the systemic herbicides registered for fallow use, such as Oxyfluorfen (Goal, Galigan) or EPTC (Eptam) require at least 90 days before planting many vegetable crops. If done correctly, Eptam can be very effective in controlling nutsedge during summer fallow.
Only the fumigants kill weed seeds. These include Chloropicrin, Methyl Bromide, Metam Sodium, Dazomet, Telone and others. Most preemergent herbicides only work after the seed has germinated. Preemergent herbicides are often used for fallow weed control only when at least 30 to 45 days or longer are available. Fumigants are expensive, can be difficult to use and are often used for disease or nematode control with the added benefit of controlling weeds. Unlike soil active herbicides, Fumigants do not have any residual activity.
Soil solarization and flooding have become increasingly popular in recent years as techniques to control pests during summer fallow. Few regions are as well suited for these techniques as the low desert. They are used primarily to control diseases but have the benefit of controlling some summer annual weeds as well. Summer flooding works better here in the low desert than it does in many places because of the high temperatures and high respiration demands. The availability of oxygen is cut off to the roots when it is most needed. It is necessary to keep the field continuously flooded at a depth of 6 to 8 inches for 3 to 8 weeks. Some species are much more sensitive than others to this technique. Perennial weeds are more sensitive than are many annual weeds. Pigweed, field bindweed and nutsedge survive while many annual grasses do not.
It is about that time of the year/growing season when you start seeing bacterial diseases. With the rain we got last week and as plants get more vegetative growth bacterial issues become more prevalent. Cilantro and parsley are two crops grown in desert southwest that often suffer from bacterial leaf spots. Most times, the disease incidence is also high because of sprinkler irrigation used in these cropS. On both crops, initial symptoms of bacterial leaf spot are water-soaked lesions on leaves. The lesions develop into spots that are varying shades of tan or brown (see picture ‘B’ on parsley whereas advanced spots on cilantro can be black (see picture ‘A’ on cilantro). The lesions are usually limited by leaf veins and thus have an angular, square, or rectangular appearance, a typical feature of bacterial infection. Lesions tend to be relatively small about 1/8 to 1/4 inch (3–6 mm) in diameter and are visible from both the top and bottom of leaves. Under favorable conditions, free moisture from rain or sprinkler irrigation, leaf spots may coalesce and cause considerable blighting of the entire foliage.
Pseudomonas syringae pv. apii (Psa) and P. syringae pv. coriandricola (Psc). cause bacterial leaf spot on parsley and cilantro. Pseudomonas syringae pv. apii (Psa) can cause leaf blight in celery and fennel as well. Though the problem is documented as more of a problem in cilantro and less in celery, in severe condition the disease can result in unmarketable produce in any host. The bacteria are likely seedborne in both crops. However, water from rain, sprinkler irrigation, and heavy dews and fogs will splash bacteria from infected plants onto adjacent healthy foliage resulting in heavy infestation.
To manage the disease, always use tested/treated seeds, rotate crop with non-host to reduce inoculum level, switch from sprinkler to furrow irrigation to limit secondary spread, avoid excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer. Copper spray/copper based fungicide provide limited control against the pathogens.
There are many innovative automated weeding technologies coming out of Europe. One of these is the autonomous weeding robot being developed by Ecoroboti (Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland). The device is lightweight and solar powered. Early prototypes used a spider like, three-axis delta robot to precisely deliver herbicides to target weeds. Videos of the device were futuristic and intriguing to watch. The company has since moved on to a simpler weeding robot equipped with a fixed boom for spot spraying weeds (Fig. 1 & 2). The autonomous robot has some specifications that are plausible for use in Arizona vegetable production. Machine travel speed is 2.2 mph and work rate is 15 acres/day (10 hour day). Spot spray resolution is reasonable at 2.5 inch2 (1.5 x 1.5 inch). This is accomplished using a series of 52 nozzles mounted on an 80 inch wide boom (Fig. 2). The machine uses computer imaging and artificial intelligence for crop/weed differentiation to identify and target weeds.
This past summer, the system was tested in sugar beets in Germany. Results showed the system correctly sprayed about 80% of the weeds. For a first time, real-world, field scale test, this outcome is encouraging.
There are some limitations however. According to product literature, the machine’s artificial intelligence system will identify a crop plant as a weed approximately 5% of the time. Given the high value of vegetable crops, killing 5% of the crop as a trade-off for robotically controlling weeds is probably not viable. It should be noted that this level of crop/weed recognition performance is consistent with other artificial intelligence-based systems reported in the literature.
Don’t give up hope though. This type of technology is advancing rapidly, and may become feasible in the future. Computing speed and sensor capabilities are advancing all the time. A review of literature indicates that systems that combine 3-D morphology, optical color and accurate location data with deep learning techniques may be a viable approach to reliably differentiate crops from weeds. It will be interesting and exciting to watch this technology as it develops. That’s for sure.
As I have mentioned before, automated thinning and weeding technologies are advancing at a very rapid pace. If you know of a new technology that would be of interest and appropriate for this newsletter, please feel free to contact me.