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Organic and smaller farmers are excited about the possibilities, Wortman said, because they could make their own blasting kits with an air compressor, applicator and cart for $2,000 to $3,000.
What’s most exciting to Wortman is the potential to piggyback weed blasting with fertilizing.
Organic farmers could use granular forms of fertilizer, such as corn gluten meal or soybean meal, to nourish their plants at the same time they’re blasting weeds, Wortman said. Those materials contain about 7 to 9 percent nitrogen, he said, whereas corncob and other grit are essentially inert.
The weed-and-feed treatment would also be cost-effective, Forcella said. “If we start using fertilizers that organic farmers are putting on those fields anyway, there’s really no added costs except for the machinery.”
Companies including PepsiCo are following the research closely, Forcella said, for the potential to make and market pesticide-free snack foods. Farmers often sign contracts with food processors, especially for organic products, he said, so the industry has a vested interest in new technology that can improve productivity and profitability on specific farms.
Forcella said there may be potential international interest as well. He hosted a researcher from Spain recently who is planning to test the technology in vineyards and olive orchards where weeds have become resistant to conventional herbicides.
Wortman and Forcella said the technology is still in its infancy, and that a huge amount of work needs to be done to determine whether it has potential to be deployed on farms.
“It’s not anything that’s wide-scale yet for sure, but we’re hoping,” Forcella said. “We never thought it would work, but it did work.”
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388