Fighting cornfield weeds with fire
MACOMB, Ill.--While many universities work on developing new and improved chemicals for agriculture, a Western Illinois University professor is looking at chemical-free farming techniques.
Gerald Vigue recently received a three-year $129,746 research grant from the Bureau of Land and Water Resources.
"Weeds are the biggest problem for the organic farmer," said Vigue, who plans to examine the practice of flaming, a time-honored application of using fire to burn weeds out of a corn field.
The corn plant is strong enough to withstand the fire but the heat is usually intense enough to kill weeds growing around the base of the stalk, he said.
Weeds are killed not so much by being burned as by being "boiled" -- water in cells boils and bursts the cells as the flame touches the leaves. Weeds wilt and die within a few minutes after flaming, said the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.