Weed control in organic farming is no less an issue than in conventional agriculture. Organic vegetable producers have always used some combination of direct labour and mechanical devices, with varying technologies added in recent years. Where engine power was required, this generally meant a diesel-powered tractor.
Pressure on carbon emissions has now prompted the replacement of diesel for some of these operations, with the use of solar-generated electric power to propel a new lazy-bed weeder system. The first such unit in Ireland was bought by Meade Farm and is in use this season.
The unit, purchased from Holland, is powered by solar panels mounted on the canopy of the unit. The unit uses this solar energy to move itself along the beds or drills with electrically powered wheels.
The chassis is controlled either by a joystick or by auto-steering mode with a front-row feeler. The unit is basically a strong but light aluminium chassis which can carry individual platforms for up to eight people. These lie face down on a “bed” on the moving platform and physically remove the weeds as the device moves forward slowly.
Meade Farm is the first grower in the country to switch to solar power to propel a lazy-bed weeder.
General manager Robert Devlin told the Irish Farmers Journal that developments like this are the way forward for organic crop management.
Late weeding can only be done using a lazy-bed weeder and it is great to be able to do this while saving the costs associated with both the tractor and the driver.
Robert said the resting areas on the chassis for the people are much more comfortable than on the old tractor-mounted version and each one also has head support to help ease the strain.
The solar panels can also power a radio or other device for the crew.
While it moves itself in the field, the unit is transported from field to field by tractor on the three-point linkage. Robert estimates an average work rate would be about 1.5 acres per day. He added that they are now using the weeding platform on conventional crops too to further reduce diesel and herbicide usage.
The company estimates that approximately 264kg CO2e emissions are eliminated per day by not having to use a tractor for this task.
Meade Farm uses a Garford Weeder for early-season weeding and this is then followed by a pass of the ‘lazy-bed’ weeder later in the season.