Crop-beaten weeds

If you find
Weeds seem to do better than crops and pastures do
Much the same weed problems occur in much the same way year after year
You set out to grow a crop but it seems that your job is more about killing weeds than growing anything else
You can adjust your crops and cropping system so they do the weed control for you.

If you do it this way you can beat weeds without chemicals and get better yields with less effort.

The first step in beating weeds is to understand the weed, where the weed fits into your farming and what aspects of your farming are allowing the weeds to get ahead. Once you have a good understanding, you have the potential to get back in the lead.

It may seem that good weed control can only be achieved with a massive amount of weedicide, but many farmers and graziers achieve excellent weed control with no herbicide at all.

The key is to change the balance such that your crops get more support, and the weeds get less.

Most important is to adjust your system so the crops get a strong advantage and the weeds are struggling to stay alive.

What it takes will vary from one farm to another and from one farmer to another and from one season to another.

Pick your worst weed and get a handle on what is causing the weed problem, as distinct from what is causing the weed itself.

If your crop is in good shape and is very competitive, there may be no problem with the weed, even though the weed is present. This IS NOT a weed problem.

If your crop is struggling or is not very competitive, the same number of weeds may overpower the crop. This IS a weed problem. And the cause is not the weed. The lack of competitiveness in the crop is causing a weed problem.

For example, the cause of a weed problem in a cereal crop such as wheat may lie in the rotation, choice of variety, sowing management or a dozen other areas. By isolating any shortcomings you can deal with them and thus let your crop achieve its potential.

If a crop can be given the conditions that suit it, it will thrive.

And that is exactly how most weed problems get out of hand, the farmer lets the weed have what it wants instead of making it difficult for the weed and the weed responds by growing better than the adjacent crop.

So let us find out what the crop wants and provide it. We may have to change varieties to find crops that can grow as vigorously as weeds in our local conditions, but once we do that, we should find farming easy for a change.

What is a weed?

Basically a weed is a plant growing where someone doesn’t want it. Otherwise it would not be a weed. Rather it would be a plant that was desirable or a plant that everyone involved in managing that land had no negative or positive opinion about.

This means that something that is a weed to you may not be a weed to your neighbor.

And you may not consider something a weed that they do.

What is happening on your farm may be quite different from what is happening on the neighbor’s. You may even get the same weed for different reasons.

Plus you may have different crops and different attitudes that make the difference.

What is a crop?

“Crop” means more than plant crops: it refers to anything you grow or manage that has some benefit that can be harvested in some way. So “crop” includes pasture, animal crops (such as milk, wool and meat) plus what are more commonly called crops such as corn, citrus or carrots; barley, broccoli or bananas.

These questions will help you to get a better grip on your weed problems and get ahead of weeds.

Taking just one weed and one crop at a time:

  • What is a weed to you?
  • What is a crop to you?
  • In what ways does this weed have a negative impact on this crop, on you or on your farm?
  • What do you know about the weed?
  • What causes the weed?
  • What causes the weed problem?
  • What allows the weed to be so successful?
  • Having established this about the weed, what does this mean for your management?
    • What are the weed’s weak & strong points?
    • What are the crop’s weak & strong points?
    • At what stages or times is the weed vulnerable?
    • How does the weed spread?
    • How could you manage your crop pro-actively to cut weed problems?
    • Can you turn this problem into a benefit?

If you can answer all those questions, generally you can get ahead of the weed.

Where you can’t answer any particular question, the weed has the chance to get ahead of you.

Once you understand how what you provide for your crop allows the weed to get ahead, you can do something to shift the balance back.

As well as understanding the weed itself, it helps to have an understanding of how it relates to its surroundings, including your crop plants.

But you can compress all that questioning into this:

Why is there a space right here that this weed has managed to take over?
If you can answer that for every weed you have, you can prevent those weeds coming back.

In fact, the usual cause of weeds is failing to understand what is happening, as it happens.

There are some basic points that must be kept in mind:


  • a weed is a plant growing where someone doesn’t want it. Otherwise it would not be a weed
  • a weed is a plant growing in an environment that suits it. Otherwise it wouldn’t be there or wouldn’t be doing well and reproducing.
  • weeds do particularly well in certain environments. Often these are farming or gardening situations
  • a crop plant and a weed cannot exist in the same space
  • anywhere there is a weed, your crop is not doing well
  • we have bred weeds to do well in conditions that suit our crops
  • any weed has one distinct advantage over a farmer growing a crop or pasture: it has only one purpose. Through millions of years of evolution each weed species has been pared to the bone to do what it does best: produce more weeds
  • your purpose is to farm, so you are trying to achieve many things. Plus you have a life outside farming. So you are at a disadvantage, because weeds are just part of what you have to deal with
  • the first step in getting ahead of weeds is to Understand the way the weed works. If you understand why a weed has a particular characteristic or behaves in a particular way you have the chance to understand how that benefits the weed and therefore how you may be able to get ahead of it by applying an appropriate tactic to counter that benefit or to give that benefit to your crop plant. Then you can take something from the weed and give something to your desired plants to shift the advantage in your favor.


One of the simplest ways to regain the advantage is to select a more competitive variety of crop plant. This immediately has your Competitive crop doing more of the work that you might have been previously doing by spraying, tillage or hand hoeing (chipping out the weeds).

Anything you can do to improve the success of your crop or pasture gives it an advantage. If there are things you can do that will also take some of the advantage from the weed, they can further improve the situation.

If you are sowing an annual crop, there are many things you can do to give more of the advantage to your crop and take some advantage from the weeds. You can:

  1. USE the preceding phase in the rotation to minimize the weed population
  2. MAXIMIZE weed germination before ground preparation starts so you can increase the kill of weeds and can help run down the bank of weed seeds in the soil
  3. USE appropriate tillage and sowing equipment to maximize weed kill
  4. CHOOSE a variety that will cover the ground quickly to snare as many of the available resources before weeds can
  5. SOW at a rate and spacing that will maximize competition for the weed without interfering with the crop’s ability to establish at a suitable plant density
  6. PROVIDE perfect conditions for germination and this might include:
    • a fine seedbed
    • press wheels or similar to ensure good contact between seed and soil
    • soil at the right moisture level
    • and more.

In farming we often miss the fact that what matters is the relationships between things rather than the things themselves. If you work out where the relationships fall down, you will find it easier to resolve the problem than if you focus on any single thing.

Pick your worst weed and think about what has changed and allowed it to become your worst weed. Unless it has always been that one weed and it has always been this bad, there is a fairly good chance that something has changed in your management, in your climate, in your cropping or in your surrounds.

Some of the more common causes for a significant worsening in a weed problem are:

  • a neighbor having huge quantities of weeds seeding upwind of where you have the weed problem
  • the overuse of any single tool on one cropping system favors certain weeds over other weeds
  • too many niches that suit the weed
  • low level of competition from the crop or pasture. This can be caused by:
    • a less than suitable variety
    • a crop variety that is not competitive enough
    • poor crop nutrition
    • unsuitable timing of operations
    • the crop getting a poor start
  • sowing seed contaminated with weed seeds
  • a large bank of weed seeds in the soil
  • weeds being allowed to seed – “One year seeding means seven years weeding” was the old saying
  • importing weed seeds with feed or in livestock
  • and a key one that took effect over several decades on many farms was replacing an effective integrated farming system with a single tool (herbicide) that became the exclusive means of weed control.

Beating weeds by using differences between weeds and annual crops

Weed and Crop characteristics Ways you might use this to your advantage
Weed has staggered maturity;
Crop has even maturity
This makes it easy to harvest and market a crop but makes it hard to capture weed seeds to prevent them getting into the soil to cause further problems in the future.

Plant an out of season crop. Turn a weed-infested crop into silage or a green manure then plant an out of season crop to clean up any remaining or following weeds.

Weed is fairly tolerant of a range of conditions;
Crop is fairly fussy about conditions
This makes it easy to establish weeds but not as easy to establish crops. As a result, weeds have an advantage at the establishment stage.

You may need a variety that covers the ground quickly or otherwise commandeers the maximum level of resources and thus makes them unavailable to the weed

Weed can germinate at any time;
Crop is generally only permitted to germinate just after sowing
Time operations such as tillage and sowing to suit the crop and to not suit the weed. For example time pre-sowing tillage to follow a frost to germinate winter weeds. You may need to choose a variety that has a shorter time to harvest to make up for the later sowing.
Weeds are strong pioneers;
Crops are more fragile, less robust, less aggressive at commandeering resources
Provide seedbed and sowing conditions to suit high germination and high establishment rates for your crop
Weeds are able to get a good start by commandeering high levels of resources;
Crops are not generally bred for commandeering resources
Choose more aggressive varieties. Increase sowing rates. Ensure conditions and timing are as good as possible for the crop. Undersow or double sow such as with a legume forage or pasture to cover more ground and provide nitrogen for the crop. This will provide additional competition for the weed.
Weeds are able to thrive in poor soils;
Crops need good soil to do well
Grow legumes and green manures and shift rotations to generally improve soil health and particularly its biological fertility.
A single weed seed can start an infestation;
A crop needs masses of seeds to establish a profitable crop
Minimize seed arrivals from outside your land. Remove weeds before they seed. Stay on top of all weeds. Develop a program that targets each type of weed when it is most vulnerable. Keep at it
Weeds just “love” to grow and seed;
Crops generally don’t “want” to grow where we want them to under the conditions we provide and yield the harvest that we want
We have to make it ideal for crops. We have bred varieties to supposedly fit into this, but they are dependent on our farming systems. Those systems have turned out to be ideal for our weeds also.

So we have to change our farming systems to holistically reduce the chances of weeds becoming a problem

Weeds can easily colonize any bare ground;
A crop needs all the best preparation to achieve the results we want
Any ground that is not 100% covered with actively-growing plants is ripe for a weed coming from the farm (including from seeds right there) or from outside. This is where Full ground cover is a huge benefit because it is a simple way to reduce the chances of weed establishment. The fewer spaces your plants leave, the fewer spaces weeds can take up. However, if you cannot maintain full ground cover of actively-growing plants year-round, then the next best form of ground cover is href=”” title=”Litter is one of the best defences against losing the real capital of the farm — the soil and its productive capacity”> Litter because it is a simple way to reduce the chances of weed establishment.

This is where perennial plants really come to the fore. Because they maintain a high level of ground cover throughout the year, they leave few spaces for weeds to colonize.

In the absence of suitable perennials, or when you are resowing a field, choose a single variety or a mix of crop or pasture plants that covers the ground quickly. Plants that cover ground quickly snare space, light, moisture and nutrients as well as becoming stronger and more able to compete


What gives a weed an advantage over a pasture or crop? Weeds have certain advantages your plants don’t. They are adapted to certain conditions on your farm to that most crops are not. If you want to drive the farm yourself, you need Nature on your side.

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