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.
Last year we had a lot of watermelon fields infected with Fusarium from Winterhaven to Yuma, Wellton, and Mohawk Valley. Rain, and overwatering of fields when plants set fruits might have contributed to the disease development.
Fusarium wilt of watermelon, caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. niveum, is one of the oldest described Fusarium wilt diseases and the most economically important disease of watermelon worldwide. It occurs on every continent except Antarctica and new races of the pathogen continue to impact production in many areas around the world. Long-term survival of the pathogen in the soil and the evolution of new races make management of Fusarium wilt difficult.
Symptoms of Fusarium can sometimes be confused with water deficiency, even though there is plenty of water in the field. In Yuma valley we have seen fusarium problem in some overwatered fields.
Initial symptoms often include a dull, gray green appearance of leaves that precedes a loss of turgor pressure and wilting. Wilting is followed by a yellowing of the leaves and finally necrosis. The wilting generally starts with the older leaves and progresses to the younger foliage. Under conditions of high inoculum density or a very susceptible host, the entire plant may wilt and die within a short time. Affected plants that do not die are often stunted and have considerably reduced yields. Under high inoculum pressure, seedlings may damp off as they emerge from the soil.
Initial infection of seedlings usually occurs from chlamydospores (resting structure) that have overwintered in the soil. Chlamydospores germinate and produce infection hyphae that penetrate the root cortex, often where the lateral roots emerge. Infection may be enhanced by wounds or damage to the roots. The fungus colonizes the root cortex and soon invades the xylem tissue, where it produces more mycelia and microconidia. Consequently, the fungus becomes systemic and often can be isolated from tissue well away from the roots. The vascular damage we see in the roots is the defense mechanism of the plant to impede the movement of pathogen.
Disease management include planting clean seeds/transplants, use of resistant cultivars, crop rotation, soil fumigation, soil solarization, grafting, biological control. An integrated approach utilizing two or more methods is required for successful disease management.
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.