May 5, 2021Summer Sanitation Is Important as Ever
To contact John Palumbo go to: jpalumbo@ag.Arizona.edu
Although it is not vigorous or vegetative, Shepardspurse is one of the most widespread and difficult to control broadleaf weeds worldwide. I used to think that it spread when there was more alfalfa here and because it is not controlled with 2,4-DB (Butyrate & Butoxone) but it has continued to spread in vegetable crops. It likely has become worse each year because of its growth habits more than its tolerance to herbicides. It germinates from on or just below the soil surface. Herbicides that move or are placed below the surface often miss it. It is difficult to control with Kerb, for instance, because it leaches easily with overhead sprinklers. The seed is less than 0.1 inch in diameter and moves easily in wind and water. It is very small, and the cotyledon leaves are hardly ever seen. By the time you see it, it is at the 3 or 4 leaf stage. It grows rapidly in a rosette that is low to the ground and often covered by the crop. Herbicide coverage is difficult. It soon puts up a thin seed stalk and several seed pods (“purses”). Unlike many annual broadleaf weeds, it can produce several generations in one season. It can grow year round in many regions but has a difficult time surviving the summers in the low desert.
Bindu Poudel, Martin Porchas, and Rebecca Ramirez
Yuma Agricultural Center, University of Arizona, Yuma, AZ
This study was conducted at the Yuma Valley Agricultural Center. The soil was a silty clay loam (7-56-37 sand-silt-clay, pH 7.2, O.M. 0.7%). Lettuce ‘Magosa’ was seeded, then sprinkler-irrigated to germinate seed on Nov 19, 2019 on double rows 12 in. apart on beds with 42 in. between bed centers. All other water was supplied by furrow irrigation or rainfall. Treatments were replicated four times in a randomized complete block design. Each replicate plot consisted of 25 ft of bed, which contained two 25 ft rows of lettuce. Plants were thinned Jan 6, 2020 at the 3-4 leaf stage to a 12-inch spacing. Treatment beds were separated by single nontreated beds. Treatments were applied with a tractor-mounted boom sprayer that delivered 50 gal/acre at 100 psi to flat-fan nozzles spaced 12 in apart.
Downy mildew (caused by Bremia lactucae) was first observed in plots on January 22, and disease rating was done on March 9, 2020. Foliar applications of treatments were made Jan 26, Feb 7, 19, and 27, 2020 (see table).
Disease severity was determined by rating 10 plants within each of the four replicate plots per treatment using the following rating system: 0 = no downy mildew present; 0.5 = one to a few very small downy mildew colonies on bottom leaves; 1 = downy mildew present on bottom leaves of plant; 2 = downy mildew present on bottom leaves and lower wrapper leaves; 3 = downy mildew present on bottom leaves and all wrapper leaves; 4 = downy mildew present on bottom leaves, wrapper leaves, and cap leaf; 5 = downy mildew present on entire plant. These ratings were transformed to percentage of leaves infected values before being statistically analyzed.
The data in the table illustrate the degree of disease control obtained by application of the various treatments in this trial. All treatments significantly reduced the final severity of downy mildew compared to nontreated plants. The most effective fungicides, that held the percentage of leaves that were infected to 20% or less, included experimental compound UA1, Tolfenpyrad 15 SC, Torac/Revus rotation in comparison to the percentage of infected leaves in non-treated plots 72.5%. Phytotoxicity symptoms were not noted for any treatments in this trial.
This is the second in a series of articles discussing technological advances being made by manufacturers of automated thinning and weeding machines. This is a fast-moving space and innovations are entering the marketplace constantly. One of these on the near-term horizon is a robotic thinner/weeder being developed by Tensorfield Agriculture, San Francisco, CA that uses hot vegetable oil to kill weeds. The idea is to spray a “micro-dose” of hot oil (320 °F) onto the targeted plant/weed with high levels of precision. Why vegetable oil and not water or steam? Sufficient levels of heat from any source will rupture cell membranes and kill plants, but the advantage of vegetable oils is that they adhere to plant surfaces better than water and can be raised to much higher temperatures before boiling. Soybean oil for example, has a boiling point of 450 °F which is much higher than that of water at 212 °F. Consequently, vegetables oils transfer more heat faster than hot water and kill plants more effectively. A limitation of steam is the difficulty in concentrating the heat energy onto the target plant.
The concept of using hot vegetable oil to control weeds with an automated machine is not new and has some merit. Vegetable oil degrades naturally in the soil and thus can be used in commercial and organic crop production. Researchers at UC Davis developed and tested a prototype, hot oil based micro-dosing sprayer for automated weeding in tomato crops (Giles et al. 2005, Zhang et al., 2012). They found the technique effective at controlling weeds (>90%), but computing speeds were too slow for the integrated automated weeding machine to be commercially viable at the time.
Tensorfield Agriculture is rejuvenating the idea using modern computers, artificial intelligence and automation. The company has built a micro-dosing sprayer that delivers heated oil to target weeds at the 1/2” scale level of precision (Fig. 1). The sprayer assembly is mounted on an autonomous, robotic platform (Fig 2 - please note that the robotic platform depicted is a first-generation design developed for testing and debugging purposes and that a commercial style unit is forthcoming). Computer imaging and artificial intelligence are used to detect crop plants and weeds. The company will be testing and debugging the system this winter in California with carrot, spinach and romaine crops. The aim is to have prototype commercial systems available for the spring of 2021.
Some of you may have visited Tensorfield Agriculture’s booth or seen their technical breakout-session presentation at the 2020 Southwest Ag Summit in Yuma, AZ. They have an interest in working in the Yuma area and with the University of Arizona. It will be interesting to see how this technology progresses over the winter and how killing weeds with heated vegetable oil may benefit weed management systems.
As I mentioned, 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 publication, please feel free to contact me.
 Reference to a product or company is for specific information only and does not endorse or recommend that product or company to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.
Fig. 1. Custom built sprayer modules for delivering high temperature vegetable oil (350 °F) to kill weeds organically. The units are designed for precision weed control (1/2” scale of resolution) by Tensorfield Agriculture, San Francisco, CA (Photo credit – Tensorfield Agriculture).
Fig. 2. Autonomous robot for thinning and weeding using heated vegetable oil. The unit is a first-generation prototype designed for testing and debugging purposes by Tensorfield Agriculture, San Francisco, CA (Photo credit – Tensorfield Agriculture).
Giles, D.K., Lanini, W.T. & Slaughter, D.C. 2005. Precision weed control for organic and conventional specialty crops. In Buy California Crop Block Grant Program Final Report. Sacramento, Calif.: California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Zhang, Y., Staab, E.S., Slaughter, D.C., Giles, D.K. & Downey, D. Automated weed control in organic row crops using hyperspectral species identification and thermal micro-dosing. Crop Protection 41: 96-105.