Cover crops survey analysis

Cover crops can slow erosion, improve soil, smother weeds, enhance nutrient and moisture availability, help control many pests, and bring a host of other benefits to farms across the country. For more than 20 years, NCR-SARE has supported projects by researchers, producers, and educators who are using this time-tested method of revitalizing soil, curbing erosion, and managing pests.

Cover crop adoption has been increasing rapidly in the last 5 years, with an estimated 1.5 to 2.0 million acres of cover crops planted in the U.S. in 2012. During the winter of 2012-13, the NCR-SARE program contracted with the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) to carry out a survey of farmers who have grown cover crops.  A short survey instrument of a dozen questions was developed with help from steering committee members of the Midwest Cover Crops Council.  The survey was distributed at several farmer conferences in the Midwest over the winter, and was also sent out in an online format to individuals across the U.S.

A total of 759 farmers completed the survey.  The farmers who completed the survey used cover crops on about 218,000 acres in 2012, and expected to increase that to over 300,000 acres in 2013.

Questions on cover crop adoption, benefits, challenges, and yield impacts were included in the survey.  Key findings included the following:

  • During the fall of 2012, corn planted after cover crops had a 9.6% increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops.  Likewise, soybean yields were improved 11.6% following cover crops.
  • In the hardest hit drought areas of the Corn Belt, yield differences were even larger, with an 11.0% yield increase for corn and a 14.3% increase for soybeans.
  • Surveyed farmers are rapidly increasing acreage of cover crops used, with an average of 303 acres of cover crops per farm planted in 2012 and farmers intending to plant an average of 421 acres of cover crops in 2013.  Total acreage of cover crops among farmers surveyed increased 350% from 2008 to 2012.
  • Farmers identified improved soil health as a key overall benefit from cover crops.  Reduction in soil compaction, improved nutrient management, and reduced soil erosion were other key benefits cited for cover crops.  As one of the surveyed farmers commented, “Cover crops are just part of a systems approach that builds a healthy soil, higher yields, and cleaner water.”
  • Farmers are willing to pay an average (median) amount of $25 per acre for cover crop seed and an additional $15 per acre for establishment costs (either for their own cost of planting or to hire a contractor to do the seeding of the cover crop).

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Biological Control and Natural Enemies

Biological control is the beneficial action of predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors in controlling pests and their damage. Biocontrol provided by these living organisms (collectively called “natural enemies”) is especially important for reducing the numbers of pest insects and mites. Natural enemies also control certain rangeland and wildland weeds, such as Klamath weed (St. Johnswort). Plant pathogens, nematodes, and vertebrates also have many natural enemies, but this biological control is often harder to recognize, less-well understood, or more difficult to manage. Conservation, augmentation, and classical biological control (also called importation) are tactics for harnessing the effects of natural enemies.


Predators, parasites, and pathogens are the primary groups used in biological control of insects. Most parasites and pathogens, and many predators, are highly specialized and attack only one or several closely related pest species.


Pathogens are microorganisms including certain bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, and viruses that can infect and kill the host. Populations of some aphids, caterpillars, mites, and other invertebrates are sometimes drastically reduced by naturally occurring pathogens, usually under conditions such as prolonged high humidity or dense pest populations. In addition to naturally occurring disease outbreaks, some beneficial pathogens are commercially available as biological or microbial pesticides. These include Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, entomopathogenic nematodes, and granulosis viruses. Additionally, some microorganism by-products such as avermectins and spinosyns are used in certain insecticides, but applying these products is not considered to be biological control.


A parasite is an organism that lives and feeds in or on a larger host. Insect parasites (more precisely called parasitoids) are smaller than their host and develop inside, or attach to the outside, of the host’s body. Often only the immature stage of the parasite feeds on the host, and it kills only one host individual during its development. However, adult females of certain parasites (such as many wasps that attack scales and whiteflies) feed on their hosts, providing an easily overlooked but important source of biological control in addition to the host mortality caused by parasitism.

Most parasitic insects are either flies (Diptera) or wasps (Hymenoptera). Parasitic Hymenoptera occur in over three dozen families. For example, Aphidiinae (a subfamily of Braconidae) attack aphids. Trichogrammatidae parasitize insect eggs. Aphelinidae, Encyrtidae, Eulophidae, and Ichneumonidae are other groups of tiny size to medium-sized wasps that parasitize pests but do not sting people. The most common parasitic flies are Tachinidae. Adult tachinids often resemble house flies. Their larvae are maggots that feed inside the host.


Insects are important food for many amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Many beetles, true bugs (Hemiptera or Heteroptera), flies, and lacewings are predators of various pest mites and insects. Most spiders feed entirely on insects. Predatory mites that prey primarily on spider mites include Amblyseius spp., Neoseiulus spp., and thewestern predatory mite (Galendromus occidentalis).

Recognizing Natural Enemies

Proper identification of pests, and distinguishing pests from their natural enemies, are essential to effectively using biological control. For example, some people may mistake aphid-eating syrphid fly larvae for caterpillars. The adult syrphid, commonly also called a flower fly or hover fly, is sometimes mistaken for a honey bee. Consult publications such as the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program Pest Notes series listed in Suggested Reading to learn more about the specific pests and their natural enemies in your gardens and landscapes. Take unfamiliar organisms you find to your Cooperative Extension office or county agriculture commissioner for an expert identification. Carefully observe the creatures on your plants to help discern their activity. For example, to distinguish plant-feeding mites from predaceous mites, observe them on your plants with a good hand lens. Predaceous species appear more active than plant-feeding species. In comparison with pest mites, predaceous mites are often larger and do not occur in large groups.


Preserve naturally occurring beneficial organisms whenever possible. Most pests are attacked by several different types and species of natural enemies, and their conservation is the primary way to successfully use biological control in gardens and landscapes. Ant control, habitat manipulation, and selective pesticide use are key conservation strategies.

Pesticide Management

Broad-spectrum pesticides often kill a higher proportion of predators and parasites than of the pest species they are applied to control. In addition to immediately killing natural enemies that are present (contact toxicity), many pesticides are persistent materials that leave residues that kill natural enemies that migrate in after spraying (residual toxicity). Residues often are toxic to natural enemies long after pests are no longer affected. Even if beneficials survive an application, low levels of pesticide residues can interfere with natural enemies’ reproduction and their ability to locate and kill pests.

Biological control’s importance often becomes apparent when broad-spectrum, persistent pesticides cause secondary pest outbreaks or pest resurgence. A secondary outbreak of a different species occurs when pesticides applied against a target pest kill natural enemies of other species, causing the formerly innocuous species to become pests. An example is the dramatic increase in spider mite populations that sometimes results after applying a carbamate (e.g., carbaryl or Sevin) or organophosphate (malathion) to control caterpillars or other pests.

Eliminate or reduce the use of broad-spectrum, persistent pesticides whenever possible. Carbamates, organophosphates, and pyrethroids are especially toxic to natural enemies. When pesticides are used, apply them in a selective manner. Treat only heavily infested spots instead of entire plants. Choose insecticides that are more specific in the types of invertebrates they kill, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that kills only caterpillars that eat treated foliage. Rely on insecticides with little or no persistence, including insecticidal soap, horticultural or narrow-range oil, and pyrethrins.

A less-persistent pesticide can result in longer control of the pest in situations where biological control is important because the softer pesticide will not keep killing natural enemies. One soft pesticide spray plus natural enemies can be effective for longer than the application of one hard spray.

Ant Control and Honeydew Producers

Ants are beneficial as consumers of weed seeds, predators of many insect pests, soil builders, and nutrient cyclers. Ants may attack people and pets or are direct pests of crops, feeding on nuts or fruit (See Pest Notes: Red Imported Fire Ants). The Argentine ant and certain other species are pests primarily because they feed on honeydew produced by Homopteran insects such as aphids, mealybugs, soft scales, and whiteflies. Ants protect honeydew producers from predators and parasites that might otherwise control them. Ants sometimes move these honeydew-producing insects from plant to plant. Where natural enemies are present, if ants are controlled, populations of many pests will gradually (over several generations of pests) be reduced as natural enemies become more abundant. Control methods include cultivating soil around ant nests, encircling trunks with ant barriers, and applying insecticide baits near plants. See Pest Notes: Ants for more information.

Habitat Manipulation

Manage gardens and landscapes by using cultural and mechanical methods that enhance natural enemy effectiveness. Grow diverse plant species and tolerate low populations of plant-feeding insects and mites so that some food is always available to retain predators and parasites. Plant a variety of sequentially flowering species to provide natural enemies with nectar, pollen, and shelter throughout the growing season. The adult stage of many insects with predaceous larvae (such as green lacewings and syrphid flies) and many adult parasites feed only on pollen and nectar. Even if pests are abundant for the predaceous and parasitic stages, many beneficials will do poorly unless flowering and nectar-producing plants are available to adult natural enemies. Reduce dust, for example, by planting ground covers and windbreaks. Dust can interfere with natural enemies and may cause outbreaks of pests such as spider mites. Avoid excess fertilization and irrigation, which can cause phloem-feeding pests such as aphids to reproduce more rapidly than natural enemies can provide control.


When resident natural enemies are insufficient, their populations can sometimes be increased (augmented) through the purchase and release of commercially available beneficial species. However, there has been relatively little research on releasing natural enemies in gardens and landscapes. Releases are unlikely to provide satisfactory pest control in most situations. Some marketed natural enemies are not effective. Praying mantids, often sold as egg cases, make fascinating pets. But mantids are cannibalistic and feed indiscriminately on pest and beneficial species. Releasing mantids does not control pests.

Only a few natural enemies can be effectively augmented in gardens and landscapes. These include entomophagous nematodes, predatory mites, and perhaps a few other species. For example, convergent lady beetles (Hippodamia convergens) purchased in bulk through mail order and released in very large numbers at intervals can temporarily control aphids; however, lady beetles purchased through retail outlets are unlikely to be sufficient in numbers and quality to provide control.

Successful augmentation generally requires advanced planning, biological expertise, careful monitoring, optimal release timing, patience, and situations where certain levels of pests and damage can be tolerated. Desperate problems where pests or damage are already abundant are not good opportunities for augmentation.


Classical biological control, also called importation, is primarily used against exotic pests that have inadvertently been introduced from elsewhere. Many organisms that are not pests in their native habitat become unusually abundant after colonizing new locations without their natural controls. Researchers go to the pest’s native habitat, study and collect the natural enemies that kill the pest there, and then ship promising natural enemies back for testing and possible release. Many insects and some weeds that were widespread pests in California are now partially or completely controlled by introduced natural enemies, except where these natural enemies are disrupted, such as by pesticide applications or honeydew-seeking ants.

Natural enemy importation by law must be done only by qualified scientists with government permits. Natural enemies are held and studied in an approved quarantine facility to prevent their escape until research confirms that the natural enemy will have minimal negative impact in the new country of release. Because classical biological control can provide long-term benefits over a large area and is funded through taxes, public support is critical for continued success. Consult Natural Enemies Handbook and Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs to learn about situations where imported natural enemies are important and conserve them whenever possible.

Is Biological Control “Safe”?

One of the great benefits of biological control is its relative safety for human health and the environment. Most negative impacts from exotic species have been caused by undesirable organisms contaminating imported goods, by travelers carrying in pest-infested fruit, by introduced ornamentals that escape cultivation and become weeds, and by poorly conceived importations of predatory vertebrates like mongooses. These ill-advised or illegal importations are not part of biological control. To avoid these problems, biological control researchers follow regulations and work with relatively host-specific insects.

Help preserve our environment and avoid introducing exotic new pests.

Do not bring uncertified fruit, plants, or soil into California. Take unfamiliar pests to your county agricultural commissioner or Cooperative Extension office for identification.


Although many animals prey on pest insects or mites, not all can be relied upon to reduce a pest population enough to protect plants. The most effective natural enemies are often relatively host specific, feeding on a single pest species or a group of similar pests such as aphids or scales. Good examples include predatory mites, most parasitic wasps, and syrphid flies. Very general predators such as praying mantids are often likely to kill as many beneficials as pests and thus rarely provide effective control.

Synchronization of the life cycle and environmental requirements of the pest and natural enemy also determine the effectiveness of biological control. Natural enemies that do not arrive or become abundant until after pests are very abundant may not prevent serious damage to plants. Conversely, a parasite or predator with multiple annual generations, that can attack a broad range of life stages of the pest and can feed and reproduce when pest populations are low or moderate, will likely be a more effective natural enemy.

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“More” compared with…?

There is obviously a wide variety of no-till farming systems and so there is an equally wide variety of conventional tillage based agricultural systems. The use of herbicides is a common feature and widespread practice in many intensive farming systems. This applies equally to tillage based conventional farming as to no-till farming. Herbicides are a useful tool for weed management, particularly in the first years after shifting from conventional farming to no-till farming. It is much easier, to do no-till farming with herbicides than without.  If now no-till farming is introduced in an environment of traditional peasant farming, where no herbicides are used at all, these no-till farming systems will obviously use “more” herbicides than the traditional conventional systems.

However, in many conventional systems herbicides are already frequently used and mechanical weed control has nearly disappeared in intensive farming. In such a system, the shift to no-till farming might not necessarily increase the use of herbicides dramatically. Even where it does increase the amount of active ingredient applied per area and year, the environmental impact is not necessarily worse, as often there is a shift from herbicides with relatively high environmental impact to other herbicides with less impact.

Therefore, it is difficult to generalize and no-till farming systems might not always require more herbicides than conventional farming systems.

What are the conditions for increased herbicide use under no-till?

Nevertheless, most of the scientific literature shows that notill farming does in fact require more herbicides than conventional systems comparing similar cropping systems.

There is no doubt that there are significant areas under notillage systems, where herbicide overuse is creating environmental problems. These systems are characterized by monocultures and, in absence of soil tillage, by herbicide use being the only weed management strategy applied. These areas are the ultimate proof for the statement, that no-till farming uses more herbicides. Many of these areas are also cropped with genetically modified crops, which are resistant to a specific herbicide. Therefore, the herbicide use in these cases is restricted to a single product. However, under such a condition, even soil tillage would not really improve the herbicide use. Such cropping systems, with or without tillage, can be considered as not conforming to good agricultural practice.

What is the weed control effect  of tillage?

Soil tillage has been developed for a number of reasons, such as to facilitate the preparation of a seedbed for a more efficient seeding. However, weed control has always been attributed to soil tillage and, particularly, the development of the mouldboard plough was very effective for weed management. But, in the long term, the weed control effect of tillage has proven to be insufficient and herbicides have become the tool of choice in intensive farming. The problem of tillage is that by creating a good seedbed for the seeds, it creates the same conditions for the weeds. While weed seeds are buried deeply with the mouldboard plough, the same plough brings to the surface the weed seeds that had been buried the season before. The seed bank in most agricultural soils is probably large enough that the plough does not have a long lasting control effect on weeds which multiply by seeds. On the other side, weeds propagating through sprouts or roots can even be multiplied by tillage implements, which only cut and mix them with the soil, so that the number of potential weed plants is increased. Through soil carried with tillage implements from one field to another, the weed population is also spread throughout the entire farmland.

Therefore, the use of tillage for weed control is not the ultimate answer, nor is the move to no-till the ultimate doom in terms of weed control.

How can herbicide use be  reduced?

This brings us back to herbicides. In all farming situations, not only in no-till farming, the use of herbicides can be reduced by applying the products correctly, using the right equipment with the appropriate settings under optimal conditions. Often the application of herbicide is done with even less care than the application of other pesticides, as herbicides are usually considered less toxic than, for example, insecticides. It leads then to increased application rates as the product is not reaching the target, but is wasted in the environment. This can become a problem, where herbicides have not been used traditionally and where, therefore, there is no appropriate equipment available for the application of herbicides once more intensive farming systems are introduced. For example, in the case of Uzbekistan, farmers start using the existing air blast sprayers, which are traditionally used for application of defoliants in cotton, for herbicide application. Similar cases can be found in other

Central Asian countries, such as Mongolia or Kazakhstan, where frequent cultivation of black fallow has been the only weed management strategy for the past few years and where the spray rigs are sometimes in very bad conditions. In FAO projects carried out in these countries, the simple upgrade of existing sprayers with upgrade kits, comprising pumps, controls, hoses and nozzles, reduced the herbicide use compared to farmers practice before the upgrade by 10 to 15 % while the weed control efficiency was at the same time improved by 20 % to values above 90 % control.

What are alternatives for weed management under no-till?

However, the main question remains, whether there are any alternative strategies for weed control that are applicable in no-till farming systems and which would allow reducing the dependency on herbicides. There is actually a wide range of options and principles within a weed management strategy that allow managing weeds without tillage and herbicides.

This starts with a forward looking strategy of weed control, to avoid the maturation and seeding of weeds in the first place by not allowing weed growth even in the off season. Applying this strategy, the farmers in an FAO project in Kazakhstan noticed after only two years of no-till cropping without even using a diversified crop rotation that the weed pressure and, hence, the need for herbicide use was being reduced compared to the conventional tillage based systems.

Another general point is to determine, at which point weeds are actually damaging the crop. It is often not necessary to eradicate the weeds completely, but only to avoid the setting of seeds and competition with the crop. Leaving weeds in a crop at a stage where the crop can suppress them and where there is no damage or problem for the harvest can actually help with managing other pests, such as termites or ants, which in absence of weeds would damage the crop.

A second aspect comes from the soil tillage itself. Farmers who do no-till for several years will notice that weed germination is reduced where the soil is not touched. Once the superficial weed-seed bank is depleted and no new seeds are added, the other seeds still remaining in the soil will not germinate as they will not receive the light stimulus for germination. For this reason, the no-till planters from Brazil,

for example, where no-till farming is reaching nearly 50 % of the total agricultural area, are designed to avoid any soil movement and to cover the seed slot immediately with mulch to create an “invisible” no-till seeding. This is done to reduce the emergence of weed seeds

The most powerful no-tillage and non-chemical weed control in no-till systems, however, is soil cover and crop rotation. Maintaining the soil covered with an organic mulch or a live crop can allow, under certain conditions, notill farming without using any herbicide. For this purpose, it is important to know the allelopathic effects of cover crops. These effects result from substances in the plants which can suppress other plant growth. Cover crops are crops which can be grown between commercial crops to maintain permanent soil cover. Crop rotations have to be designed in such a way, that the soil is always covered and that the variety of crops in the rotation facilitates the management of weeds. For managing the cover crops, a knife roller is used, which breaks the plants and rolls them down.

Applied at the right time, this tool can actually kill some of the cover crops without need of herbicide and achieve complete weed control throughout the next cropping season, provided the planting is done with minimum soil movement. Applying a knife roller, for example, in a well developed cover crop of black oat (Avena strigosa) at milk stage, will completely kill the cover crop, which on the other side will provide good weed control. In Brazil after a cover crop of black oat, there is usually no additional herbicide applied for the following crop There is a lot of scientific and practical evidence that weed infestation under no-till farming using certain cover crops and diversified crop rotations is declining in the long term, allowing a similar decline in herbicide use. Farmers using these principles of good agricultural practice in no-tillage systems report declining pesticide use in general, which also includes declining herbicide use at a level lower than comparable conventional systems.

Starting no-till farming with the establishment of good cover crops and a forward looking weed management allows the introduction of no-till farming in small holder farms in Africa without any herbicide use at all and with a reduction of manual weeding requirements. Spectacular effects were achieved in an FAO project in Swaziland using no chemical inputs and increasing both yields and reducing the drudgery of farm work by introducing a no-till farming system combined with permanent soil cover and crop rotation better known as Conservation Agriculture.


There is no question that herbicide use in agriculture and particularly in no-till farming systems can be a problem. There is plenty of scientific and practical evidence of excessive herbicide use in no-till farming. However, this is not an inherent characteristic of no-tillage farming, as there are alternative ways for weed management even without returning to soil tillage and cultivation. If correctly applied, these practices allow a sustainable use of herbicides in an integrated weed management programme  and even completely non-chemical weed control is possible. These practices are already successfully applied in commercial farming, but globally they are not yet sufficiently known or appreciated. Therefore, the general perception remains that no-tillage farming requires increased herbicide rates, which in reality not true as a general statement.

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No-Till Technology: Impacts on Farm Income, Energy Use and Groundwater Depletion in the Plains

The adoption of a no-till feedgrain production system in a crop rotation with irrigated wheat production increases farm income, reduces underground water depletion, conserves energy, and reduces labor needs. Simultaneous attainment of these items might be considered compatible multiple goals of Great Plains farmers facing rising production costs, a declining water table and narrowing profit margins.

Benefits from the no-till system are due to improved wheat residue management techniques and the increasing availability of no-till equipment. Chemical weed control in wheat stubble provides increased soil moisture retention, reduced soil exposure to wind and water erosion and, in some cases, a savings in total production costs when compared with conventional tillage practices. Variable production costs are reduced somewhat by the no-till system in irrigated feed grain production but are higher than conventional tillage for dryland sorghum production. Machinery depreciation costs are reduced significantly for both no-till irrigated and dryland feedgrain production.

Increased profitability of the no-till feedgrain production system over conventional tillage is due largely to three items: (1) increased yields, (2) reduced fuel and labor requirements of irrigating and tillage, and (3) savings in machinery depreciation costs. No-till practices, however, require larger expenditures for chemicals.

In addition, harvesting expenses are increased due to higher grain yields from the no-till system.

In summary, the discounted stream of profits (5 percent) are 50 percent higher with no-till using the average pumping lift of 353 feet and a constant natural gas price for the next 10 years. If gas prices rise in relation to all other inputs, profits increase by 67 percent with no-till practices. Profits can be doubled with no-till in the high lift, rising gas price situation at 5 or 10 percent discount rates. With gas prices held constant, 67 to 69 percent higher profits are realized with the respective discount rates. If the low pumping lift situation is considered, profits are increased at the five percent rate about 50 percent with rising gas prices. If gas prices remain constant, profits are 45 percent higher in the low pumping lift situation. Somewhat  smaller increases in profitability are realized at a 10 percent discount rate.

Both water use efficiency and energy use efficiency increase with no-till feedgrain production. Increased yields per acre from no-till coupled with lower irrigation requirements and diesel use for tillage increase resource use efficiency.

The implications of this analysis regarding increased profits, reduced energy and labor use, and conservation of scarce groundwater raise the question as to why producers are not rapidly adopting-no-till practices. Recent changes in the relationship of fuel costs versus herbicide costs are only now being realized by many producers. Availability of new herbicides is increasing each year supported by substantial research to indicate regional and crop specifications. Improved machinery, particularly planters and drills, is being developed to compensate for seeding in heavier residue. Producer acceptance of “trash” farming has been slow, however.

Clean-till attitudes and psychology are being gradually eroded by the current economic advantages of limited tillage practices in more arid regions (Stewart and Harman).

Reporting of on-farm results in recent years supporting research findings indicates the importance of continued public policy support of research and education programs. Economic analyses of this type provide the basis for evaluating ongoing research results. Evaluations of resource use, impacts on production efficiency and assessments of profitability can provide impetus for continued public support. In addition, if higher profits accrue to agriculture as a result of new and improved means of efficient resource use, the financial condition of commercial agriculture may also be improved.

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Weed control in no-tillage corn

Weed Control

Weed control in no-tillage corn is often more difficult  than in conventionally tilled corn. As a general rule, herbicide effectiveness decreases with the amount of crop and weed debris on the soil surface. This debris ties up herbicides and also presents a physical barrier to the uniform distribution of the herbicide on the soil for residual activity. Consequently, selection of herbicide rates and application methods is critical. Read and follow instructions on the herbicide label. On the other hand, residue cover provides some suppression of many weed species. In addition, there is generally less incidence of large-seeded weeds in continuous notillage systems.

Control of Existing Vegetation at  Planting

The types of weeds present and the type of cover determine the herbicide program required to control vegetation present at planting. It is necessary to consider the burndown materials and the postemergence characteristics of the other herbicides to be used in relationship  to the weed infestation.

Annual grasses and broadleaf weeds can be controlled with nonselective herbicides, such as glyphosate or paraquat. In general, no alteration in the residual herbicide program is needed to supplement the nonselective herbicide in these instances, although some herbicide labels require slightly higher rates to compensate for herbicide adsorption on the cover crop or other plant material.

When planting in perennial grass sods, a single paraquat application may not be sufficient to give satisfactory control. Control of orchardgrass and fescue requires use of the highest labeled rates of atrazine in addition to paraquat. The use of atrazine plus simazine combinations in perennial sods is not recommended because, unlike atrazine, simazine does not have postemergence activity and will not aid in burndown of these grass sods. In very vigorous orchardgrass or fescue sods, two applications of paraquat are sometimes required to achieve complete control.

The use of glyphosate should be considered for control of existing perennial broadleaf and grass weeds at planting. Care must be taken to allow these weeds to reach the minimum growth stages listed on the label before application is made. Often, this delays corn planting to the point that alternative crops or tillage methods should be considered as a means of control.

The use of glyphosate should also be considered when heavy infestations of annual weeds are present and have advanced to the stage at which paraquat will give only partial control.

Control of Annual Grasses

Fall panicum and other annual grasses can be major problems in no-tillage corn production. Simazine has good activity on annual grasses, and a combination of atrazine and simazine will give good control, especially of late-season flushes of these annual grasses. Chloroacetamide herbicides, including metolachlor, alachlor, and acetochlor, also provide good residual control of annual grasses and suppression of yellow nutsedge. These herbicides can be used in combination with atrazine, or in combination with atrazine and simazine.

Control of Triazine-Resistant Pigweed

Triazine-resistant pigweed is a major problem in a large part of our no-tillage corn acreage. The weed has no susceptibility to the triazine herbicides.Residual chloroacetamide herbicides afford fair-to-good control of this weed with optimum activation rainfall. If there is not  sufficient rainfall for activation or if very heavy rainfall occurs early in the season, pigweed control with these compounds will be inadequate, and a postemergence herbicide application will be required. Excellent preemergence residual control of pigweed can be obtained when flumetsulam, mesotrione, or pendimethalin are included in the pre-emergence herbicide application. These compounds are available in prepackaged mixes.

One product used extensively in Virginia no-till corn, Lumax, contains atrazine and metolachlor for general residual weed control, plus mesotrione for residual control of pigweed.

Control of Perennial Broadleaf Weeds

In the absence of tillage, herbaceous perennial broadleaf weeds can become very troublesome in no-till corn plantings. These species must be controlled with systemic herbicides at growth stages when translocation towards underground perennial plant structures is maximized. Generally, these perennials have not emerged at the time of planting, and making applications before planting are ineffective.

In most cases, the use of glyphosate-resistant corn hybrids represents the most effective overall method for perennial broadleaf weed control in no-till corn. Growers should also consider control of these perennials in rotational crops. Where soybeans are part of the rotation, perennial broadleaf weed control should be considered in glyphosate-resistant soybeans, because the soybean canopy is extremely effective in aiding the control of these species.

Control of Perennial Grasses

There are several excellent postemergence methods for perennial grass control in no-till corn. Johnsongrass can be controlled with nicosulfuron or with glyphosate in a glyphosate-resistant corn hybrid.Because of potential maize dwarf mosaic virus transmission to corn from dying johnsongrass following these applications, maize dwarf mosaic virus-tolerant corn hybrids must be used where postemergence johnsongrass herbicide programs will be employed.Bermudagrass control in no-till corn requires the use of glyphosate in glyphosate-resistant corn hybrids.Several postemergence herbicides, including halosulfuron, mesotrione, and glyphosate, can be used for the control of yellow nutsedge.

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Effective micro-organisms for ecological agriculture during transition

About 25 years ago, I came to know about Effective Microorganisms and their use in agriculture, animal health and sanitation through a Japanese friend who visited my farm and also arranged to get literature about Effective Microorganisms. Prof. Teruo Higa, an agronomist, modified an age-old Japanese technology which he learnt from his grandmother. Traditionally, Japanese farmers used to make ‘Bokashi’, a concentrated form of  compost, apply it to the soil along with other organic manures. The purpose was to inoculate beneficial organisms to improve the quality of organic manure and to check fungus and virus problems in the  soil. They used to collect chemical free soil, rich in humus, from forests and mix it with dry cow dung powder, dry fish meal, jaggery syrup, oil cake and rice bran, adding about 10% to 12% of potable water. The anaerobic compost thus prepared was used at the rate of 100 grams per square metre of land. Prof. Higa, further worked on this traditional practice along with his friend, a microbiologist and introduced Effective Microorganisms to agriculture, animal health and sanitary uses. Now, almost after 30 years of its introduction, it is being used in most of the countries all over the world. In India, through its licensed tie-up with Maple Orgtech (I) Limited, the Effective Microorganisms are being supplied through their distributors all over India.

What is EM?

EM contains more than 70 beneficial organisms, more importantly  lactic acid bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria (Rhodopseudomonas Palustris) and yeast. Surprisingly, use of EM helps in augmenting the photosynthesis by about 30% in all the crops. Further, it controls viruses and fungal damage to crops and animals by inoculating lactic acid bacteria and actinomycetis bacteria. It is very expensive and not very effective to use the stock solution. So, the farmer has to prepare Secondary Effective Microorganisms (SEM) or Extended Effective Microorganisms (EEM).

To prepare SEM/EEM, we need a 20 litre plastic can, free from chemicals, 20 litres of potable water (not chlorinated, or bleaching power being used for purification), 1 or 2 kgs of chemical free Jaggery. Mix jaggery in 20 litres of water in the plastic can and add one litre of Effective Microorganisms stock solution. Close the lid and keep in a cool and dark place for about 8 to 10 days. The PH will come down to 3.5 and the processed product – E.E.M or S.E.M will smell sweet and sour like a mixture of jaggery and curd.

Ways in which EEM can be used

E.E.M or S.E.M can be used in agriculture in 5 ways.

1. Direct use of E.E.M

You can spray E.E.M. directly on crops at 0.1% or one ml in one litre of water. You can also spray on the soil or crop residues at 0.5% to help them break down much faster (particularly sugarcane and paddy thrash). If you have S.E.M in excess, not being used after 60 days, you can spray at 0.5% on your compost heap.

2. Enriched Urine with E.E.M

Collect urine including human urine and process anaerobically for 8 days. Mix 50 ml E.E.M with one litre of urine and 100 gms of jaggery and spray on crops at the rate of one ml in one litre of water. Farmers in Doddaballapura, Bangalore Rural district, Karnataka State area are collecting urine from school latrines and are using on their crops as soil application as they hesitate to spray on crops. But for sure there will be no traces of bad odour after addition of E.E.M and fermentation done anaerobically.

3. Fermented Plant Extraction (F.P.E)

Collect about 10 kgs of weeds at the time of sunrise and cut them into 2 inch pieces. Fill them into a plastic container with water, adding 500ml of E.E.M. and 500 ml of jaggery syrup. Close the lid, not too tight, as this particular fermentation releases some gas. Allow it to ferment for 8 days, in a cool and dark place. You will find clear odourless liquid which can be strained in a cotton cloth. This sap can be sprayed on the crops at one ml in one litre of water i.e., at the rate of 0.1%.

4. Bokashi or concentrated compost

You need 100 litres of fine rice or wheat bran, 10 kgs of dry cow dung powder, 10 kgs of groundnut oil cake, 5 kgs dry fish meal, 2 kgs of jaggery, about 12 to 14 litres of chemical free potable water, one litre of SEM or EEM and a suitable plastic container to fill all the above material. Mix all the ingredients well and fill into the container as tightly as possible for anerobic composting for 8 to 10 days in a cool and dark place. The pH will come down below 3.5 and the product can be mixed with soil at a cooler time along with other organic manures at the rate of 100 gms per square metre.

5. E.M. 5

You will need 600 ml of chemical free potable water, 100 ml of jaggery syrup, 100 ml of E.E.M or S.E.M, 100 ml of ethyl alcohol (rum or brandy) and 100 ml of natural vinegar. Fill and mix all the above ingredients in 1 litre bottle and allow to ferment anerobically in a cool and dark place for 8 to 10 days.

The pH will come down to 3.5. You can spray EM 5 as an antifungal, antiviral and insecticide at the rate of one ml in one litre of water. In my vast experience on my family’s five mixed (bio-intensive) farms, I can recommend the use of EM to increase soil fertility and suppress development of harmful organisms. In the first two to three years, we used EM as a 5 percent spray on our crop residues such as maize, rice paddy stubble and sunflower, to decompose them quickly. We noticed that by using EM spray, composting is quicker and better. Similarly, when we applied bokashi (another EM product) together with farmyard manure, we noticed that our rice, tomato, bottlegourd, soyabean, gladiolus, banana and papaya crops were free from fungal attacks and viral diseases. Another EM preparation was very useful in controlling sucking insects on legumes and cucurbits. We have observed better growth in the leaves and stems of crops sprayed with different EM preparations, leading to yield increases of 15 percent and fewer pest infestations.

Farmers in Erode District of Tamil Nadu in South India, are regularly using EM preparations for soil treatment to check root-rots. Farmers in Raichur District, Karnataka State are using EM to help quicken the breakdown of paddy stubble, as do sugarcane growers in Sivaganga District, Tamil Nadu. The EPPL thermal power company, with 700 acres of hill neem trees (also in Tamil Nadu), found that the germination capacity of their seeds increased from 5 percent at the beginning to 85 percent after soaking their dry fruits in 5 percent EM solution for 24 hours before planting. I myself and over 500 farmers in the area also use EM solution to soak all our seeds before  sowing.

Care in use of EM

Since Effective Microorganisms are basically an inoculum of beneficial organisms, care needs to be taken not to use any chemicals in the same land. Also, as these are acidic in nature, EM preparations of 0.1% only should be sprayed, otherwise, it may scorch the plants. All the preparations have to be stored in a cool and dark place and should be used before 60 to 70 days of preparation.

Although some farmers produce their own micro-organism mixtures, for example, keeping rice gruel near humus rich wet soil for 4-5 days, my fear is that farmers cannot identify any harmful organisms getting into the preparations, as they do not have suitable laboratory equipment to segregate them. Therefore, I think it is better to get EM stock solution from an authentic laboratory. It is very cheap to use it; in India, the use of EM on one acre costs less than a cup of coffee. Farmers use it 3-4 times a year on all their crops. Nevertheless, it is enough to use EM preparations only in the first 2-3 years during the transition from chemical to organic  farming. It is very useful in building up the population of beneficial

organisms both in the soil and plants. In my opinion, use of EM is the best way for farmers intending for a transition from chemical farming to bio-intensive farming.

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Comparison of the effect of liquid humic fertilizers

Maize (Zea mays L.) is one of the most highly consumed  crops, and the most important foodstuff after wheat and  rice around the world. The global production of maize is 604 million tons, with a planting area of up to 140 million hectares. Iran produces 2 million tons of maize on 350000 hectares of land. However, the production from hybrid maize seeds in Iran is highly limited (FAO, 2002).

This plant, photosynthetically, is of C4 type and thrives in tropical and semitropical climates (Emam, 2008) and is native for central and southern America (Khodabandeh, 1998). Based on its role in production of grain and forage and providing food for livestock, as well as its industrial use, maize has become an important crop in Iran, as well as in other parts of the world. Expanding the area under  maize cultivation in Iran in order to become self-sufficient is one the most important goal pursued by the government and as a result of implementing programs designed to increase grain maize production over the last few years, this crop has seen a very fast growth in terms of planting area and yield.

Humic substances (HS) are the result of organic decomposition of the natural organic compounds comprising 50 to 90% of the organic matter of peat, lignites, sapropels, as well as of the non-living organic matter of soil and water ecosystems. Authors believe that humic substances can be useful for living creatures in developing organisms (as substrate material or food source, or by enzyme-like activity); as carrier of nutrition; as catalysts of biochemical reactions; and in antioxidant activity (Kulikova et al., 2005). Yang et al. (2004) argued that humic substances can both directly and indirectly

affect the physiological processes of plant growth. Soil organic matter is one of the important indices of soil fertility, since it interacts with many other components of the soil. Soil organic matter is a key component of land ecosystems and it is associated with the basic ecosystem processes for yield and structure(Pizzeghello et al., 2001).

Classically, humic substances are defined as a general group of heterogeneous organic materials which occur naturally and are characterized by yellow through dark colors with high molecular weight (Kulikova et al., 2005).  Shahryari et al. (2011) experienced the effect of two types of humic fertilizers (peat and leonardite derived) on germination and seedling growth of maize genotypes. They reported that interaction of “genotype × solutions (peat and leonardite based humic fertilizers and control) was significant in terms of the length of primary roots.

Application of leonardite based humic fertilizer had a remarkably more effect on relative root growth of Single Cross 794 and ZP 434 than other genotypes. In their experiment, the relation between germination rate and primary roots was positively significant under the condition of application of both types of humic fertilizers; but there was not the same relation for control treatment.

They argued that all types of various humic substances as a biological fertilizer can have an either similar or different effect in early growth stages of maize, as peat and leonardite based fertilizers that they applied produced more seedling roots than control, however the length of coleoptiles was higher in treatment with application of leonardite based humic fertilizer and control than treatment with application of peat based humic fertilizer. They believe that if used in lower quantity these natural fertilizers can have a lot of effect on plant growth.

Hence, in order to recognize how effective they might be, investigations should be considered based on various amounts of humic fertilizers. Finally, they suggested that both peat and leonardite based humic fertilizers could be used to stimulate growth of primary roots in maize which are critical for an optimal establishment of maize in the field.

Gadimov et al. (2009) claimed that humic substances are natural technological products with a miraculous biological effect on crops and concluded that a scientific and practical program is required to make use of this technology in the world, particularly in developing countries. Also, Shahryari et al. (2009) concluded that potassium humate is a miraculous natural material for increasing both quantity and quality of wheat and can be used to produce organic wheat. Thus, application of biological products such as humic fertilizers to provide nutrition for crops can be one of the useful methods to achieve some of the objects of organic crop production.

In addition, Shahryari et al. (2011) studied the response of various maize genotypes against chlorophyll content of the leaves at the presence of the two types of humic fertilizers. In their experiment, solutions (two types of peat and leonardite based liquid humic fertilizers and control) and interaction of “genotypes × solutions” produced significant difference at 1% probability level in terms of chlorophyll content of the leaves. Genotypes such as Single Cross 704 and 505 had the highest index for chlorophyll content when treated by leonardite based humic fertilizer. Peat based humic fertilizer decreased the index for chlorophyll content in genotypes such as 500, OS499 and 505, while leonardite based humic fertilizer decreased the index for chlorophyll content of the leaves in genotypes such as Golden West and Single Cross 704. However, peat based humic fertilizer did not have such an effect on these two maize genotypes.

Meanwhile, leonardite based humic fertilizer had no effect on index for chlorophyll content of leaves in genotypes such as 500, OS499 and 505. Genotypes such as ZP677 and ZP434 produced no response against the application of the two types of humic fertilizers. This study was aimed to compare the effect of liquid peat and leonardite based humic fertilizers on the yield of maize genotypes in Ardabil Region.


This experiment was conducted at Agriculture Research Station of Islamic Azad University, Ardabil Branch (5 km west of Ardabil City) in 2009 – 2010 cropping year. The region has a semiarid and cold climate, where the temperature during winter season usually drops below zero. This region is located 1350 m above the sea level with longitude and latitude being 48.2°E and 38.15°N, respectively.

Average annual minimum and maximum temperatures are -1.98and 15.18°C, respectively; whereas maximum absolute temperature is 21.8°C; and mean annual precipitation has been reported to be 310.9 mm. The soil of the field was alluvial clay with a pH ranging from 7.8 to 8.2.

Vegetative materials included six maize genotypes prepared from the Agriculture and Natural Resources Research Center of Ardabil Province. The Experiment was conducted as split plot in the basisof randomized complete block design with three replications. The main factor included three conditions (peat based humic fertilizer; leonardite based humic fertilizer; without the application of humic fertilizer) and the sub factor included six maize genotypes (ZP677, Golden west, OS499, ZP434, Ns540 and Single Cross 704). Each of experimental blocks included 3 plots, 320 cm length in rows, with80 cm from each other containing plants at 20 cm distances.

Pretreatment of seeds were done on the basis of 220 ml per 10 L of water to be applied for 1 ton of seeds. Moreover, irrigation was done in flooding manner. Weed-fighting was done both mechanically and manually during all growth stages. Liquid humic fertilizer was prepared and applied based on 400 ml per 50 L of water for 1 ha of maize plantation. The prepared solution was sprayed upon the aerial part of the plants during 5th leaf stage, appearance of reproductive organs, flowering and grain filling stages. All the samples were taken randomly from competitive plants at middle rows. Study traits included grain number per ear row, number of grain row per ear, ear number, weight of 1000 grains, biological yield, vegetative yield and grain yield.

Statistical analysis

Analysis of variance of data and mean comparison of them was done using MSTATC and SPSS programs. Mean comparison was done using Duncan’s multiple range test, at 5% probability level. Due to abnormality of data for ear number and its high coefficient of variation, square root conversion was used to normalize it.


Results from analysis of variance for study traits suggest that there was a significant difference  between experimental conditions in terms of grain yield and biological yield at 1 and 5% probability levels, respectively. In addition, there was a nonsignificant difference between study genotypes in terms of all evaluated traits except for number of grain row per ear and wet biomass at 1% probability level. Furthermore, there was no difference observed between the interaction of genotype and experimental conditions for any trait being studied, and this was in agreement with the report of Shahryari et al. (2009). This means that under study genotypes had the same responses to potassium humate.

Moreover, results from mean comparison of data (Table 2) for studied genotypes indicate that genotype OS499 (110.70 g) had the highest 1000 grain weight, whereas genotype Single Cross (81.20 g) had the lowest 1000 grain weight on average. Based on mean comparison of 1000 grain weight, genotypes OS499 and ZP434 were placed in the same group as NS540, whereas genotype ZP677 was placed in the same group as Golden West. Genotype ZP677 (with a mean value of 15.48) and genotype ZP434 (with a mean value of 13.49) had the highest and lowest values of number per ear, respectively; and genotypes such as Golden West and Single Cross were placed in  the same group as NS540 and had no difference in terms of this trait. Genotype ZP677 (with a mean value of 20.89 ton/ha) and genotype OS499 (with a mean value of 16.93 ton/ha) had the highest and lowest biological yield respectively and genotype OS499 was placed in the same group as ZP434, whereas genotypes such as Golden West and Single Cross were placed in the same group as NS540. Genotype ZP677 (with a mean value of 108.68 ton/ha) was the best among other genotypes in terms of wet biomass, whereas ZP434 (with a mean value of 77.52 ton/ha) had the lowest value for wet biomass. ZP677 was placed in the same group as NS540, whereas genotypes Golden West and OS499 were placed in the same group as ZP434 and had no difference in terms of this trait.

Shahryari and Shamsi (2009a) reported that potassium humate increased the rate of biological yield of wheat from 3.26 to 3.72 g/plant; but it had no effect on harvest index. Also, they found that uses of potassium humate increased grain yield. Results from mean comparison of data  for experimental conditions being studied indicate that application of leonardite based liquid humic fertilizer produced the highest biological yield(21.99 ton/ha on average), whereas no application of humic fertilizer produced the lowest biological yield(14.97 ton/ha on average). In this respect, both types of applied humic fertilizers had similar effects. Application of leonardite based liquid humic fertilizer produced the highest grain yield (7.09 ton/ha on average) among the conditions being studied, whereas under the condition of without humic fertilizer obtained the lowest value(4.07 ton/ha).

Ayas and Gulser (2005) reported that humic acid leads to increased growth and height and subsequently increased biological yield through increasing nitrogen content of the plant. It has also been reported that application of humic acid in nutritional solution led to increased content ofnitrogen within aerial parts and growth of shoots and root of maize (Tan, 2003). In another investigation, the application of humic acid led to increased phosphorus and nitrogen content of bent grass plant and increased the accumulation of dry materials (Mackowiak et al.,2001). Humic acid leads to increased plant yield through positive physiological effects such as impact on metabolism of plant cells and increasing the

concentration of leaf chlorophyll (Naderi et al., 2002).

Also, spraying humic acid on wheat crop increased its yield by 24% (Delfine et al., 2002). In general, the results from this study indicate that the application of leonardite based humic fertilizer increased biological yield by 46.89% compared to control, whereas peat based humic fertilizer increased biological yield by 34.47% compared to control. Seyedbagheri (2008)evaluated commercial humic acid products derived from lignite and leonardite in different cropping systems from 1990 to 2008. The results of those evaluations differed as a result of the source, concentration, processing, quality, types of soils and cropping systems. Under their research, crop yield increased from a minimum of 9.4%to a maximum of 35.8%. However, application of humic fertilizer in this study increased the biological yield by 40.68% on average. Application of leonardite based humic fertilizer increased the grain yield of maize by 74%.

Also, peat based humic fertilizer increased the grain yield by 44.7%. Overall, the mean increase for grain yield under the condition of application of humic fertilizers was as high as 59.45%. Similar results were also presented by Shahryari et al. (2009b) on wheat. They reported increase of grain yield (by 45%) from 2.49 ton/ha to 3.61 ton/ha affected potassium humate derived from sapropel in normal irrigation conditions.


Results from this experiment indicate that the application of liquid humic fertilizer can positively affect the maize yield and some agronomic traits related to it. These desirable effects can be a consequence of its effect on the physiology of the maize. In general, application of humic acid can lessen the need for chemical fertilizers and subsequently reduce environmental pollution, and compared with other chemical and biological fertilizers, they are affordable. Finally, it can be said that application of humic fertilizer not only increases the yield of maize, but also can play a significant role in achieving the goals of sustainable agriculture

( Source

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Open System for Organic Agriculture Administration

Efforts to increase the availability of sustainable development in natural resources worldwide are  consecutive and proliferated through the last decades. Sectors and divisions of many scientific  networks are working simultaneously in separate schemas or in joined multitudinous projects and  international co-operations. Organic Agriculture, as a later evolution of farming systems, was  derived from trying to overcome the accumulative environmental and socioeconomic problems of  industrialized communities and shows rapid development during the last decades. Its products  day to day gain increased part of consumer preferences while product prices are rather higher  than those of the traditional agriculture. Governments all over the world try to reduce the  environmental effects of the industrialized agriculture, overproduction and environmental  pollution, encouraging those who want to place their fields among others that follow the rules  of organic agriculture. All the above make this new trend very attractive and promising.

But the rules in organic agriculture are very restrictive. The intensive pattern of cultivation  worldwide and the abuse of chemical inputs, affected the environment, therefore any field  expected to be cultivated under the rules of organic agriculture has to follow certain steps but  also be ‘protected’ from the surrounding plots controlling at the same time different kind of unexpected influx (e.g., air contamination from nearby insecticides’ use, water pollution of  irrigation system from an adjacent plot that has used fertilizers, etc). It is obvious that the gap  between wish and theory and the implementation of organic agriculture is enormous.

Obviously one can overcome this gap using a sophisticated complex system. Such a system  can be based on a powerful GIS and the use of widely approved mobile instruments for  precise positioning and wireless communication. In such a system data-flow could be an  “easy” aspect, providing any information needed for the verification of organic product cycle  at any time, any site. 


As the world’s population has increased from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the 20th century  to over 6.2 billion just before the year 2004, economic growth, industrialization and the demand for agricultural products caused a sequence of unfortunate results. This aggregation of disturbances moved along with the reduction in availability and deterioration of maximum yield results from finite ranges of plots on earth’s surface. Overuse of agrochemical products (insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.), reduction and destruction of natural resources, decrease of biodiversity, reduction of water quality, threat over rare natural landscapes and wild species and an overall environmental degradation, appeared almost daily in news worldwide especially over the last two decades. The universal widespread of this situation has raised worldwide awareness of the need for an environmentally sustainable economic development. (WCED, 1987) In the beginning of year 2004, EU Commission for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries declared three major issues towards a European Action Plan on organic food and farming that may be crucial for the future of organic agriculture:

− the market, (promotion and distribution)

− the role of public support and,

− the standards of organic farming.

It is obvious that in general the market has a positive reaction if there is a prospect of considerable gain. Thus we can say that the other two will define the future. The strict rules of organic agriculture have to be ensured and all the products have to be easily recognisable.Also a guarantee about the quality and the origin of any product has to be established.

Organic Farming is derived as a sophisticated sector of the evolution of farming implementation techniques aiming through restrictions and cultivated strategies to achieve a balanced production process with maximum socioeconomic results (better product prices, availability of surrounding activities as ecotourism, family employment in low populated villages, acknowledge of natures’ and rural environments’ principles and needs, etc.). Meanwhile, the combination of latest technological advances, skills, innovations and the decline of computer and associate software expenses were transforming the market place of geographic data. Now, more than ever before, common people, farmers, private enterprises, local authorities, students, researchers, experts from different scientific fields, and a lot more could become an important asset supporting the development of innovations of Informatics in Geospatial Analysis. With the use of Geographic Information Systems and Internet applications various data can be examined visually on maps and analyzed through geospatial tools and applications of the software packages. Much recent attention and efforts has been focused on developing GIS functionality in the Worldwide Web and governmental or private intranets. The new applicable framework, called WebGIS, is surrounded with a lot of challenges and is developed rapidly changing from day to day the view of contemporary GIS workstations.

Precision Organic Agriculture through GIS fulfils the demands of design strategies and managerial activities in a continuing process. By implementing this combination, certified methods for defining the best policies, monitoring the results and the sustainability of the framework, and generating a constructive dialogue for future improvement on environmental improvement and development could be developed.


Organic Agriculture is derived from other organized smaller natural frameworks, publicly known as ecosystems which are complex, self-adaptive units that evolve through time and natural mechanisms and change in concern with external biogeochemical and natural forces.

Managing ecosystems should have been focused on multiplication of the contemporary needs and future perspectives to ameliorate sustainable development. Instead, political, economic and social agendas and directives, as well as scientific objectives resulted in few decades such an enormous amount of global environmental problems like never before in the history of mankind. Valuable time was spent over the past 75 years by research, which was trying to search how ecosystems regulate themselves, for example how they adjust to atmospheric, geologic, human activities and abuse (Morain, 1999).

Organic Agriculture flourished over the last decade particularly after 1993 where the first act of Regulation 2092/91 of European Union was enforced. Until then, and unfortunately, afterwards, worldwide environmental disasters ( e.g., the Chernobyl accident of the nuclear reactor in April 1986), accumulative environmental pollution and its results (acid rain, ozone’s hole over the Poles, Greenhouse effect, etc.) and even lately the problems that occurred by the use of dioxins and the propagation of the disease of “mad cows”, increase in public opinion the relation between natures’ disturbances and the continuing abuse of intensive methods of several industrialized chains of productions. Among them, conventional agricultural intensive production with the need of heavy machinery, enormous needs of energy consumptions and even larger thirst for agrochemical influxes the last fifty years, created environmental disturbances for the future generations. Therefore, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) constituted a number of principles that, enabling the implementation of Organic Farming’s cultivation methods, techniques and restrictions worldwide.

Principles of Organic Agriculture Organic Agriculture:  (Source: IFOAM)

  •  aims on best soil fertility based in natural processes,
  •  uses biological methods against insects, diseases, weeds,
  • practices crop rotation and co-cultivation of plants
  • uses “closed circle” methods of production where the residues from former cultivations or other recyclable influx from other sources are not thrown away, but they are incorporated, through recycling procedures, back in the cultivation (use of manure, leaves, compost mixtures, etc.),
  • avoids heavy machinery because of soil’s damages and destruction of useful soil’s microorganisms,
  • avoids using chemicals,  avoids using supplemental and biochemical substances in animal nourishing,
  •  needs 3-5 years to transit a conventional cultivated field to a organic farming system following the restrictions of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91,
  • underlies in inspections from authorities approved by the national authorities of Agriculture.

An appropriate organic plot should be considered as the landscape where ecological perspectives and conservations activities should be necessary for effective sustainable nature resource management (Hobs, 1997). Considerable amounts of time and effort has been lost from oncoming organic farmers on finding the best locations for their plots. Spatial restrictions for placing an organic farm require further elaboration of variables that are affecting cultivation or even a unique plant, such as:

− Ground-climatic variables (e.g., ground texture, ph, slope, land fertility, history of former yields, existence of organic matter, rain frequency, water supply, air temperature levels, leachability, etc.),

− Adjacency with other vegetative species (plants, trees, forests) for propagation reasons or non-organic cultivations for better controlling movements through air streams or erosion streams (superficial or in the ground) of agrochemical wastes,

− Availability of organic fertilization source from neighbored agricultural exploitations,

− Quality of accessing road network for agricultural (better monitoring) and marketing (aggregated perspectives of product distribution to nearby or broadened market area) reasons.

A GIS is consisted of computerized tools and applications that are used to organize and display geo-information. Additionally it enables spatial and non-spatial analysis and correlation of geo-objects for alternative management elaborations and decision making procedures. This gives the ability to GIS users or organic farm-managers to conceive and implement alternative strategies in agricultural production and cultivation methodology.


The development of first concepts and ideas of a precision organic farming system in a microregion, demands a regional landscape qualitative and recovery master plan with thorough and comprehensive description of the territory (land-use, emission sources, land cover, microclimatic factors, market needs and other essential variables. Essential components on a successful and prospective organic GIS-based system should be:

− The time-schedule and task specification of the problems and needs assessments that the design-strategy is intended to solve and manage,

− Integrated monitoring of high risks for the cultivation (insects, diseases, water quality, water supply, weather disturbances (wind, temperature, rain, snow, etc.),

− Supply of organic fertilization because additional needs from plants in certain periods of cultivation could be not managed with fast implemented agrochemicals; instead they need natural fermentations and weather conditions to break down elements of additional fertilization,

− High level of communication capabilities with authorized organizations for better management of the cultivation and geodata manipulation, aiming on better promotional and economical results,

− Increased awareness of the sustainability of the surrounding environment (flora and fauna), enabling motivation for a healthy coexistence. For example, the conservation of nearby natural resources such as rare trees, small bushes and small streams, give nest places and water supply capabilities to birds and animals that help organic plants to deal with insect populations controls and monitoring of other plant enemies,

− Continual data capture about land variables, use of satellite images, georeference  sampling proccedures and spatial modelling of existed or former geospatial historical plot’s data could be used to establish a rational model which will enable experts and organic farmers to transform the data into supportive decision applications.

The combination and modeling of all necessary variables through any kind of methodological approach, could be achieved through GIS expressing the geographical sectors of land parcels either as a pattern of vector data, or as a pattern of raster data (Kalabokidis et al., 2000). Additionally, we could allocate the cultivation or the combination of cultivations1 and their units (plants, trees, etc.) so as to be confronted in relation with their location inside the field, as well as with the neighbored landscape. For this purpose the most essential tool would be a GPS (Global Positioning System) device with high standards of accuracy. Several statistical approaches and extensions have been developed for the elaboration of spatial variables through geostatistical analysis. The usefulness of these thematic maps lies upon the tracing and localization of spatial variability in the plot during the cultivated period, enabling the farmer to implement the proper interferences for better management and future orientation of the farm and of the surrounding area.

Specific geodata receivers and sensors inside the plot, in the neighbored area, as well as images from satellites, could establish a “temporal umbrella” of data sources of our farm which would submit in tracing of temporal variability factors in our field. The agricultural management framework that takes into account the spatial or temporal variability of different parameters in the farm is called Precision Agriculture (Karydas, et al., 2002). The implementation of IFOAM’s principles in such an agricultural model should be called Precision Organic Agriculture (POA).


The development of appropriate analytical techniques and models in a variety of rapidly changing fields using as cutting edge GIS technology, is a high-demanding procedure. The linkages to different applications of spatial analysis and research and the ability to promote functional and integrated geodatabases is a time consuming, well prepared and carefully executed procedure which combines spatial analytic approaches from different scientific angles: geostatistics, spatial statistics, time-space modeling, mathematics, visualization techniques, remote sensing, mathematics, geocomputational algorithms and software, social, physical and environmental sciences.

An approach of a Precision Organic Farming model, which uses as a structure basis the Precision Agriculture wheel (McBratney et al., 1999) and the introduction of organic practices for the sustainable development with the elaboration of any historical data about the plot. The basic components are:

− Spatial referencing: Gathering data on the pattern of variation in crop and soil parameters across a field. This requires an accurate knowledge of allocation of samples and the GPS network.

− Crop & soil monitoring: Influential factors effecting crop yield, must be monitored at a thoroughly. Measuring soil factors such as electric conductivity, pH etc., with sensors enabling real-time analysis in the field is under research worldwide with focusing on automation of results. Aerial or satellite photography in conjunction with crop scouting is becoming more available nowadays and helps greatly for maximizing data acquisition for the crop.

− Spatial prediction & mapping: The production of a map with thematic layers of variation in soil, crop or disease factors that represents an entire field it is necessary to estimate values for unsampled locations.

− Decision support: The degree of spatial variability found in a field with integrated data elaboration and quality of geodata inputs will determine, whether unique treatment is warranted in certain parts. Correlation analysis or other statistical approaches can be used to formulate agronomically suitable treatment strategies.

− Differential action: To deal with spatial variability, operations such as use of organic-“friendly”-fertilizers, water application, sowing rate, insect control with biological practices, etc. may be varied in real-time across a field. A treatment map can be constructed to guide rate control mechanisms in the field.

GIS systems from their beginning about than 30 years ago, step by step, started to progress from small applications of private companies’ needs to high demanding governmental applications. At the beginning, the significance and capabilities of GIS were focusing on digitizing data; today, we’ve reached the last period of GIS’s evolution of data sharing. Nowadays restrictions and difficulties are not upon the hardware constraints but they are on data dissemination. Several initiatives have been undertaken in order to provide basic standard protocols for overcoming these problem. The need of organisational and institutional cooperation and establishment of international agreement framework becomes even more important. Governments, scientific laboratories, local authorities, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private companies, international organizations, scientific societies and other scientific communities need to find substantial effort to broaden their horizons through horizontal or vertical standards of cooperation.

Any GIS laboratory specialized in monitoring a specific field could give additional knowledge to a coherent laboratory which focus to an other field in the same area. As a result, especially in governmental level, each agency performs its own analysis on its own areas, and with minimal effort cross-agency interactions could increase the efficiency of projects that help the framework of the society.

Such a data-sharing framework was not capable in earlier years, where technological evolution was trying specific restrictions of earlier operational computerised disabilities. Hardly managed and high demanding knowledge in programming applications, unfriendly scheme of computer operating systems over large and expensive programs, and restricted knowledge on Internet applications now belong to the past. User friendly computer operation systems, high storage capacity, fast CPUs (Central Processing Units) sound overwhelming even in relation with PCs before ten years. Powerful notebooks, flexible and strong PDAs, super-computers of enormous capabilities in data storage, true-colour high resolution monitors and other supplementary portable or stable devices, created an outburst in the applications of Information Technology (IT). Additionally, the expansion of Internet in the ‘90s worldwide, contributed (and is still keeping on doing this) on redesigning specific applications for data mining procedures through WWW (World Wide Web), as well as for data exporting capabilities and maps distribution through Internet. The evolution in computer software derived new versions of even friendlier GIS packages.


The Internet as a system followed an explosive development during the past decade. The modern Internet functions are based on three principles (Castells, 2001):

 − Decentralized network structure where there is no single basic core that controls the whole system.

− Distributed computing power throughout many nodes of the network.

− Redundancy of control keys, functions and applications of the network to minimize risk of disruption during the service.

Internet is a network that connects local or regional computer networks (LAN or RAN) by using a set of communication protocols called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Internet technology enables its users to get fast and easy access to a variety of resources and services, software, data archives, library catalogs, bulletin boards, directory services, etc. Among the most popular functions of the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). World Wide Web is very easy to navigate by using software called browser, which searches through internet to retrieve files, images, documents or other available data.

The important issue here is that the user does not need to know any software language but all it needs is a simple “click” with mouse over highlighted features called Hyperlinks, giving  increased expansion on growth of WWW globally.

GIS data related files (Remote Sensing data, GPS data, etc) can benefit from globalization of World Wide Web:

− An enormous amount of these data are already in PC-format.

− GIS users are already familiar by using software menus.

− Large files could be easily transmitted through Internet and FTPs and software about compression.

− The Web offers user interaction, so that a distant user can access, manipulate, and display geographic databases from a GIS server computer.

− It enables tutorials modules and access on educational articles.

− It enables access on latest achievements in research of GIS through on-line proceedings of seminars, conferences, etc.

− Through Open Source GIS, it enables latest implementations of GIS programming and data sharing by minimum cost.

− Finally through online viewers, it gives the capability of someone with minimum  knowledge on GIS to get geospatial information by imaging display. (Aber, 2003)

The importance of World Wide Web could become more crucial through wireless Internet access. For a GIS user who works on the street, or in our case, on the field of an organic farm and uses wireless access to the web, a GIS package through a portable device, data transmission is an important issue. This is more important especially if the data are temporalaffected (e.g., meteorological data). To overcome this problem, new data transmission methods need to be elaborated and used in web-based GIS systems to efficiently transmit spatial and temporal data and make them available over the web. Open Source GIS through Internet represents a cross-platform development environment for building spatially enabled functions through Internet applications. Combinations of freely available software through WWW (e.g., image creation, raster to vector, coordinates conversion, etc), with a  combination of programming tools available for development of GIS-based applications could provide standardized geodata access and analytical geostatistical tools with great diplay efficiency. Under this framework, several geospatial applications can be developed using existing spatial data that are available through regional initiatives without costing anything to the end user of this Open GIS System (Chakrabarti et al., 1999).


As the World Wide Web grew rapidly, sophisticated and specialized methods for seeking and organizing data information have been developed. Powerful search engines can be searched by key words or text phrases. New searching strategies are under development where web links are analyzed in combination with key words or phrases. This improves the effectiveness at seeking out authoritative sources on particular subjects. (Chakrabarti et al., 1999) Digital certification under international cooperatives and standards is fundamental for the development of organic agriculture in general and particularly in the market framework. Based on the theory of “dot per plot” different functional IDs could be created under password protected properties through algorithm modules. This way, a code bar (like those on products in supermarkets) could be related through GIS by farmers ID, locations ID, product ID, parcel ID and could follow this product from organic plot to market places giving all the details about it. Even more, authorization ID could be established this way for controlling even the farmer for cultivated methods undertaken in the field that are underlie EUs’ legislations and directives.

 In many cases the only way to create or maintain a separate “organic market” is through certification which provides several benefits (Raghavan, et al., 2002):

− Production planning is facilitated through indispensable documentation, schedules, cultivation methods and their development, data acquisition (e.g., lab results on soil’s pH, electrical conductivity, organic conciseness, etc.) and general production planning of the farm − Facilitation of marketing, extension and GIS analysis, while the data collected in the process of certification can be very useful as feedback, either for market planning, or for extension, research and further geospatial analysis.

− Certification can facilitate the introduction of special support schemes and management scenarios for organic agriculture, since it defines a group of producers to support.

− Certification tickets on products under international standards improve the image of organic agriculture in the society as a whole and increases the creditability of the organic movement.

Because a certification ticket is not recognised as a guarantee standard by itself, the level of control system in biological farming is quite low. In Greece, we are familiar with farmers having a bench by the road and using hand made tickets for their products, they call them “biologic” aiming in higher prices. Marketing opportunities for real organic farmers are eliminating while at the same time EU is trying to organize the directives for future expansion of organic agriculture.

Designing a functional infrastructure of a Geodatabase, fully related with Internet applications, requires accumulative levels of modular mainframes that could be imported, managed and distributed through WWW applications. The security and reliability of main GIS databases have to be established and confirmed through international standards (ISOs) and authorized GIS packages and users as well as in relation with governmental agencies. On the next level, additional analysis of geodata files and agricultural related information data should be combined and further elaborated. For the base level, fundamental GIS functions and geodata digitization should be implemented through internetic report applications (HTML reports, site-enabled GIS, wireless GIS applications, etc.). By this framework we could create a data base where using any ID number (farmer, product, field, etc) will be easy to recognize the history of any specific item involved in the life cycle of the organic farming through a data-related link over thematic maps by GIS viewers in the Internet. Although this framework is supported by multifunctional operations, we could distinguish sectors with homogeneity features:

In the first level of accessing an Open GIS Web system, the users should be first able to access the system through a Web browser. Free access should be available here for users who want to retrieve information, as well for users who want to login for further, more advanced queries. Fundamental GIS functions and geodata digitization should be implemented through internetic report applications (HTML reports, site-enabled GIS, wireless GIS applications, etc.). In this level public participation is enabled through importing additional geodata sets and any other kind of information resources (for example, latest weather information, market demands, research accomplishments, latest equipment facilities, personal extensions for GIS packages, etc.). The eligibility of these data should be applied after studying standards criteria in the next level by experts. Technological advances are also providing the tools needed to disseminate real-time data from their source to the web mapping services, available to the users through the Internet, portable devices, cellular telephones, etc. Basic field work for agricultural and Remote Sensing purposes, as well as data gathering for further statistical analysis should be implemented. By this level, the user could access the system through browsing commands or hyperlinks and through GIS queries. The significant point here is that the access is completely free for anyone who wants to retrieve information but classified to everyone who wants to submit any kind of information by the meaning that he has to give either a user’s ID or personal details.

The second level of accessing the system , is the authorized expert’s level. Here additional analysis of geodata files and agricultural related information data should be combined and further elaborated. Expert analysts from different scientific fields (GIS, economists, topographers, agriculturists, ecologists, biologists, research, etc.) are “bridging” the two levels of the system by using high sophisticated computer tools and GIS packages to facilitate data transportation through WWW channels between clients and servers. In the database file an identity code (IdC) or feature code (FC) is distributed, following the geodata file from main Geodatabase server to the final user. By this framework we could create a data base where using any ID number (farmer, product, field, etc) will be easy to recognize the history of any specific item involved in the life cycle of the organic farming through a data-related link over thematic maps by GIS viewers in the Internet. Additional demand on this level should be considered to be indispensable a background in Web functions with further support by Web experts for adequate Web System Administration.

In the third level of this Web based GIS system,  the success is relying on cooperation between authorized users only. This partnership should be established between geographic information data providers and data management authorities at a governmental, local or private level by authorized personnel. International collaboration could provide even better results in data quality and quantity but requires additional data storage capabilities and special awareness on data interoperability and standards interchange eligibility confirmed through international standards (ISOs). The security of personal details must be followed enriching this level with further authorization controlling tools. The significance of designing successful strategies for case management, using authorized, legitimate GIS packages should also be supported through Web applications and algorithms available for GIS-Web users on global based patterns .


The generally accepted purpose of organic agriculture is to meet the needs of the population and environment of the present while leaving equal or better opportunities for those of the future. Development of this sector is increasing through coordinated activities worldwide by international organizations (EU, UN, FAO, etc.) with long-lasting master plans. The dynamic factor of organic agriculture should not be kept without support. Political initiatives should stand side by side with organic farmers helping them to increase the quality of products and to multiply the number of producers and of the cultivated area.

The accumulative development of Organic Agriculture in Europe needs to be followed by additional development of management activities and strategies in national, binational and international level. Combined actions should be undertaken in fields like telecommunications standards, computer software and hardware development, research projects on agricultural management through GIS, additional educative sectors in universities.

The restrictions that accompany organic farming should help in establishing international agreements that will help to increase the number of qualitative standards, allowing better perspectives for developing future GIS based management strategies. The implementation of an Internet Based Precision Organic Agricultural System requires committed research from the agricultural industry and improvements in geoanalysis, agricultural and information technology. GIS based systems will become more essential as a tool to monitor agricultural exchanges between inputs and outputs and in relation with adjacent regions at an increasingly detailed level. The results will enhance the role of Geographic Information as a functional and economic necessity for any productive community.

(Source –

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Weed management in No-till: improving the system

Why do we always face with problem of weeds? Because we allow them either to set seed on our ownership  or to be brought in on vehicles, in seed or hay etc… (poor hygiene), or via wind or water. There is the main problem with economic weed control. It allows weeds to continue setting seed, which means we keep on having to fight  them. The idea is not to use  more (e.g. quantity of herbicides) , but be wiser (use quality) . Having  a goal  100% weed control is the right  thing to do. Imagine sowing wheat on the day you wanted to (even if dry) because you knew there were no weed problems. It is achievable.

The principles are:

1) Be multifarious in your strategies.

a. Never use a consistent rotation (it is wrong to try and find one).

b. Never use the same chemicals all along.

c. Shift the growing season.

d. Use all options.

2) Be hygienic.

a. no introduced weeds from outside the farm.

b. and no “nurseries” where weeds can proliferate, like on fence lines.

By now in No-till you should have a good understanding on why we use herbicides in another way than with full cut sowing systems. No-till drives weeds to be more on the surface among the ants and stubble, and suffer from wet/dry cycles.

Soil residual or coleoptile active herbicides close to the seeds therefore work much better, hence the bigger use of trifluralin (Treflan), triallate (Avadex), metolachlor (Dual), oryzalin (Surflan and Yield).

When devising a rotation, removing a weed or pest problem needs to be right up there  with the thought  “what will bring me the biggest income now, and in the next few  years?”

Have a ryegrass problem? Then two or three years of complete (100%) weed control needs to be your goal. Rotations like hay, then peas (crop-topped) followed by herbicide tolerant canola would clean your paddock up very nicely, and then you should be able to have 2-4 years of cheap but high yielding cereal crops. You should be able to keep the paddock very low in weeds if you manage it well.

This is one more useful idea  for greater productivity, less  cost, more profit, and higher potential to get 100% weed control. So what is the secret?

Principle 1-c above mentioned shifting the growing season. That does partly mean sowing early and late with our normal winter crops, but it more importantly means planting other crops that are planted at very different times of the year, like in August  and September.

With autosteer and shielded sprayers, sunflowers, corn  and other crops become one of the best crops to grow, especially sunflowers. Even in paddocks with a broadleaf weed problem, you could sow these (in August to early September) on 1m row spacings.

On the row, you can spray herbicides at a high rate, but cheaply because you are only spraying a small percent of the paddock, and in between the rows you can use total weed kill herbicides like Roundup, Sprayseed, Gramoxone, Affinity, Pledge, Basta etc…. When herbicide tolerant sunflowers become more available, this will become even easier.

On legume winter crops, trials and experience is showing we should definitely grow these on wider row spacings, for yield reasons, but it also opens up very nicely to the shielded spraying strategy. On wide rows, we can spray Sprayseed down between the rows without damaging  the crop. This cannot be done on 7” rows. Canola is also looking OK on wider row spacings, as in 50-60cm at least.

There is a trade-off with wide rows on cereals. In South Australia particularly, your researchers have been pushing narrow rows to rise crop competition over the weeds. There is no doubt this is a valid finding, but I disagree with it when implemented on the farm.

Narrow rows means it is more unsafe  to use chemicals like trifluralin, and they influence less because of the increased soil disturbance and weeds being distributed to different depths. The increased soil disturbance makes more weeds germinate, which means the only way of controlling them in the crop is by herbicide or crop competition.

But if you use wider rows, it makes less weeds germinate, and trifluralin type chemicals work better. We are very comfortable growing wheat and barley at 250-300mm row spacing in WA.

Theoretically 100mm spacings would be higher yielding in a perfect world, but we have weeds, herbicide placement, stubble, pulling power etc… to contend with. Going wider to make herbicides work better and weeds germinate less is a useful thing. There is a point where yields wont be lower than yields at 100mm spacings, and we think this is approximately 250-300mm area. I would never go narrow just to smother weeds. On herbicides, thinking here on wheat and barley, never just use one herbicide. If you

have a weed problem, use a mixture of herbicides. In WA, a common mixture is with Diuron, metolachlor, trifluralin and triallate pre-sowing. Diuron is almost always used, and then with 2-3 of the other chemicals. Logran B-Power is sometimes used after a legume crop for wheat. SU’s should never be used on cereals after canola, or in any situation where nematodes are a problem. Never use harrows in no-till unless there is a very good reason, and herbicide incorporation is not one of those reasons.

Making weeds germinate is not good. It means you then have to use chemicals to destroy them.

It is important to remember that No-till also enables the use of old chemicals like oryzalin (Surflan and is in Yield). This is the same chemistry family as trifluralin, but is very residual. In full cut sowing, it is too damaging to cereals, but it is much safer in no-till. With Yield and Surflan now dropping in price, these will be used more where we can in canola and legume crops, and in the odd cereal crop until we get more experience, and if registrations allow.

Kerb (propyzamide) is still threatening to drop in price and when it gets down to the $20/kg mark or less, it will become a widely used herbicide in no-till in canola and some legume crops and pastures (registrations allowing of course).

So in conclusion, concentrate on the two principles mentioned at the beginning, try to move into autosteer and shielded spraying, and plan on rotations that remove a weed problem from your paddock.

(Based on –

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