Chem-free weeding between rows

Austrian-made inter-row cultivator keeps the steel between the crop with camera guidance and hydraulic hitching

CAMROSE, Alta. — Cultivating barley in July is a farmer’s nightmare. Markus Reyerding has cultivated his barley once, harrowed it a couple times this year and hopes to cultivate some of the parts he missed once more.

Reyerding has transitioned 520 acres of their roughly 7,000 acre farm to organic and the interrow cultivator and a rotational harrow have become key tools in weed control. The small shovels on the Einbock Chopstar row crop cultivator pass between the rows of barley pulling up weeds. Earlier in the spring, a set of harrows that look like small hay rakes spin the weeds from between the rows.

“Last year, we had an excellent year. There were hardly any weeds and the barley was an excellent crop,” he said.

This year’s wet fields and never-ending rain have created more logistical issues — farming around potholes and drowned-out crops.

“It’s a terrible year for mechanical weed control,” he said.

“As soon as you don’t have straight lines, this machine has its limitations. If there is too much of a curve, it won’t work at all.”

Reyerding used a similar inter-row cultivator at his family farm in Germany to control weeds in sugar beets. As more herbicides lose their registration, some European farmers are turning back to mechanical tillage to control weeds.

The cultivator is mounted on the back of a tractor with a three-point hitch. The tractor travels down the field in a straight line using RTK technology. The cultivator adjusts its positioning separately. A camera pointed down at four rows of crop sends a message to the hydraulics to move machine sideways.

“The camera is looking for the crop row, not the weeds.”

He estimates the intercrop cultivator and the harrows remove 80 to 85 percent of the weeds in crop. Thistles continue to be their main weed not controlled by this system.

As prices for traditional crops stagnate, Reyerding believes other farmers may look for options like organics as a possible risk management tool.

“You can’t produce more wheat nobody wants so why not look for different options. We think this is a niche that may work,” he said.

“This is quite a big change. I hope it’s worth it.”

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