Flame weeding holds potential to grow propane gallons

July 11, 2024 By     0 Comments

There’s no doubt about it; propane plays a critical role on the American farm.

From grain dryers and propane-powered equipment to building heat and generators, retailers know propane is already a key asset that keeps operations across the country running smoothly.

But new momentum behind an old farming practice could open up fresh opportunities where retailers can grow gallons and better support their farm customers.

Flame weeding, also known as flame tilling, is nothing new or novel. The practice of fighting weeds with fire was common on farms across the country up through the 1960s before chemical pesticides picked up steam. Flame weeding saw a renaissance in the 1990s as organic farmers sought a cleaner, greener alternative to chemicals and costly manual labor.

Today, some may still consider this method to be a niche tool for organic producers, but flame weeding is no longer just for the organic farmer. As a farmer-owned cooperative providing grassroots support out in the field, our team at CHS is uniquely positioned to keep a pulse on the needs of the American farmer and has seen this propane-powered practice reemerging with conventional farmers, specifically for producers who find their fields are growing more resistant to chemical weed killers.

Propane-powered solution

Using a targeted flame fueled by propane, flame weeding technology doesn’t ignite the weed but heats the weed to a level that disrupts its cell walls and stops its ability to divide or absorb nutrients. When performed safely, using proper equipment and safety gear and avoiding dry periods and windy conditions, the process kills the weed and leaves crops unaffected, without disturbing the soil or damaging the microorganisms that feed crops and help them grow.

Producers making the switch to this propane-powered solution find they can reduce costs by cutting the number of chemical inputs used in their operation and taking advantage of flexibility when it comes time to tackle weeds. Flame weeding can be done when the ground is wet and leaves fields free of plant debris so farmers can return to the field immediately after treatment. This method can also be used at a variety of growing stages.

While the equipment used may vary by operation, testing at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln found flame weeding typically requires 5 to 9 gallons of propane per acre, and many producers find multiple field passes are needed during the growing season to yield results.

According to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), when applied twice within a growing season to row crops, flame weeding is up to 90 percent effective against weeds. Producers can complete a first round of flame weeding before planting, and to achieve optimal results, follow with a second pass through their acreage when crops are in their early growth stages.

Many producers also have found success using flame weeding as one of many tools in their toolbox in coordination with chemical treatments, using flame weeding as part of a two-pronged, multi-year crop rotation strategy. Flame weeding can require more time to execute than chemical spraying, so it can be difficult for producers to treat their entire operations at once, but because the process doesn’t disturb the soil’s organic matter, it can result in healthier soil with improved moisture retention for future yields. Producers may use chemical weed killers on a rotating percentage of their acreage while flame weeding the remaining acres each season to reduce the population of chemical-resistant weeds in their soil profile on a regular basis.

Producers who are curious about this “new” technology and ready to take their first steps with flame weeding will be looking to propane professionals like you for industry intel, guidance and support. Don’t leave this opportunity to grow propane gallons at the farm gate.

Scott Pearson is vice president of propane at CHS, overseeing all aspects of the propane product line. With more than 25 years of industry experience, he has served on the PERC Safety and Technical Training Working Group and led the Agricultural Safety Task Force for PERC.

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