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Precision Equipment is Key to Organic Weed Control

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Harrowing has long been a critical strategy for preventing weeds from choking out a crop.  Thousands of years ago, humans first used tree branches to harrow their fields.  They understood that removing weeds when they are small would save a lot of effort and lost production compared to waiting until later to deal with the weeds.  While the principle has not changed, the equipment has seen tremendous technological advancements. 

Matt Miller, an organic corn, soybean, and oat farmer from Bristow, Iowa, has made it a priority to have the best weed control technology on his farm.  He is one of many Treffler harrow owners across North America. 

Matt Miller with his son Henry at MOSES. Photo Credit: Jos Pelgröm 2020

Before Matt had built his farm up enough to provide an income for his family, he worked as a USDA Organic Farm Inspector.  “I saw a lot of different approaches to weed control,” he says.  “Some were trying ‘No-Till’ with smashed cover crops and hoping their crop would outgrow the weeds.  Some were trying to figure out how to ‘farm like Grandpa did’ and found their 40+ year old cultivation equipment buried in the back of a neighbor’s shed.  Others went the route of adopting the latest technology in weed management and mainly looked to Europe for that equipment.” 

Once Matt had acquired a basic set of weed control equipment for his own farm, his next move was to acquire the precision technologies.  The first leap in this phase of his operation was purchasing a new tractor with an integrated autosteer system capable of sub-inch accuracy.  Planting and cultivating with the GPS minimized problems with point rows at the edge of the field.  The precisely spaced and straight rows of corn and soybeans allowed for faster cultivating, and a better job covering the weeds and not the crop.  With the tractor able to drive itself down the rows, Matt could focus on making sure the cultivator was doing the best job possible. 

Two years ago Matt replaced his long tine harrow that had coil springs with a Treffler precision harrow equipped with the patented spring and cable tine tension adjustment system.  “Long tine harrows aren’t found on every organic farm in my region,” explains Matt, “but I don’t know what I would do without one.”  A good tine harrow removes weeds that grow within the crop row.  They are more aggressive than a rotary hoe, and effective at removing small seeded broadleaves and grasses that emerge at shallow depths.  The long tines allow it to be used in growing crops unlike the traditional spiked-tooth harrow. 

“I could do a pretty good job with my old harrow, but it was a very stressful tool to use,” Matt explains.  “I always worried about being too aggressive with it and damaging my crop or being too gentle with it and not adequately removing the weeds.  It was not fun at all to use.  When you need to do something that isn’t fun, there’s tendency to procrastinate, and that can cost you big when it comes to organic weed control.  My new Treffler tine harrow is absolutely fascinating to watch work, and that makes me look forward to every chance I have to take it to the field and kill weeds.”  

Before purchasing, Matt thoroughly researched various brands of tine harrows on the market.  The spring and cable tension system of the Treffler allows for the pressure on the tines to be adjusted just right to remove the most weeds while not damaging the crop.  Nearly all fields have some variation in soils and weed pressure.  The tine pressure is able to be adjusted on the fly to compensate for varying field conditions by using the tractor’s hydraulic system.  The harrows with the coil tine not only flex back and forth, but also side to side.  When they flex side to side, there will be gaps in the weed control, especially if two adjacent tines hook on each other.  Real problems occur then.  Since the Treffer tine harrow does not utilize the coil spring design, the tines do not flex side to side, and leave no gaps.

After two years of use, Matt says he is satisfied with the decision to get the Treffler for use in his organic corn and soybeans.  “Better weed control has saved me thousands of dollars in hand weeding expense and has led to higher yields,” he says.  “This definitely is not your grandpa’s harrow.”