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SIU to test electricity as a weed killer

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 1:16 PM CDT
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CARBONDALE, Ill. (KFVS) - Southern Illinois University Carbondale is collaborating on a project that tests using electricity to control weeds.

Karla Gage is an associate professor of weed science and plant biology. She is working with researchers Mandy Bish and Kevin Bradley from the University of Missouri to test the Annihilator 6R30 Weed Zapper.

The equipment includes two or more tool bars mounted to a tractor, with each containing an electrode. The bars contact weeds that have grown above the soybean crop canopy and electrocute them.

Researchers say just 65 to 130 milliseconds of the proper amount of current can cause them to die.

The project is funded by the North Central Soybean Research Program with support from the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, who bought the implement.

It includes researchers from Iowa State University, University of Nebraska, Kansas State University and Purdue University.

As certain weeds become resistant to traditional herbicide management, farmers and agriculture researchers are taking another look at the practice of electrocuting weeds, which they say railroad companies used as long ago as the 1890s.

“Herbicide resistance is especially problematic in agriculture, and there are over 20 species in the North Central soybean production region that are confirmed as resistant to at least one herbicide site of action,” Gage said. “Growers are looking for new weed control tools to use.”

She said two of the most problematic species in Illinois and the soybean production region are Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) and waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus).

Research with the Annihilator 6R30 Weed Zapper began in Missouri in 2020 on weeds common to Missouri soybean producers. However, researchers are still trying to figure out the method and how effective it will be across land and weed species.

They say the influence of a plant’s biology, things such as its leaf orientation, cuticle thickness and the location of its growing points, will likely impact effectiveness.

Another option SIU researchers are exploring is called harvest weed seed control, which is when weed seeds are managed or destroyed before they go back into the soil seedbank to germinate the following season.

They’re also exploring the use of inter-row cultivation and other non-chemical weed control methods.

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