The Van Trump Report

Beating Back Weeds with Electricity

Herbicide resistant weeds are the bane of agriculture, costing U.S. farmers an estimated $2 billion a year by some accounts. As more and more weed species learn to defend against our limited chemical control systems, those costs continue to mount every season. According to the Weed Science Society of America, over 250 species have developed some form of resistance. Researchers are hard at work on new chemical and genetic solutions but the process is slow and new modes of action face years of regulatory hurdles. In the meantime, growers are adding more non-chemical solutions to their approach, including cover crops, tillage, and other practices.

The non-chemical solutions obviously don’t carry the risk of being outsmarted by weeds but one alone usually isn’t enough to effectively keep weed pressure down. Therefore, most agronomists encourage adopting a holistic approach that combines both chemical and non-chemical practices. One of the non-chemical alternatives that’s gaining some new attention in the U.S. is the use of electricity which can fry weeds from their crowns down to their roots and stops the seed production cycle.

Using electricity to control weeds is not a new concept with a couple of U.S. companies selling specialized equipment for several years now. Most recently, CNH Industrial just completed its acquisition of a minority stake in Swiss-based company Zasso, maker of Electroherb, an electrical current weed control solution. The tractor based system is available under the name XPower as part of CNH’s AGXTEND™ range of products.      

Zasso calls its Electroherb technology an electrophysical treatment which they say allows the destruction of plants to the root with an effect that lasts longer or is comparable to that obtained with conventional agrochemicals. Specially designed electrodes perform high-voltage discharges that kill plants almost immediately as the electricity destroys the compartmentalization of vascular systems (xylem and phloem), causing irreparable lethal damage. The result of the application is an efficient and lasting effect on the treated plant species, without other consequences, such as chemical drift, toxic contaminations, or resistances resulting from selection.

The two-part system attaches to the front and rear of tractors. The rear unit includes a generator, up to 12 high-voltage transformers, with an output of 36 kW (including Power Boost option) and an electrical control cabinet. The generator is driven by the tractor’s PTO shaft and produces high-voltage electricity, which discharges through the plant leaves to the root system, the soil, and returns to the passive electrodes of the system. The swiveling front attachment consists of three rows of static electrodes. The electrical energy deactivates the chlorophyll as well as the water and nutrient system of the plants.  You can learn more about Zasso’s technology HERE.

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