Propane-Fueled Flame Weed Control Study Receives Conservation Innovation Grant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently awarded a $50,550 Conservation Innovation Grant to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) to study propane-fueled flame weed control and its effect on soil erosion. The joint project with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) studies both the efficacy of flame weed control and its potential to reduce soil erosion better than conventional tillage.

NRCS provides grants to organizations that will develop or use innovative tools to solve environmental problems affecting the agriculture industry. PERC already supports several projects at UNL that are studying propane-fueled devices that use heat to control weeds.

“We are honored and excited to work with PERC to implement this grant from NRCS,” says Dr. Stevan Z. Knezevic, associate professor at UNL and integrated weed management specialist with the UNL Northeast Research and Extension Center at the Haskell Agricultural Laboratory. “Support from the USDA and the propane industry proves we are on the right track in researching sustainable flame weed control technologies for the U.S. agriculture industry that use clean, reliable propane.”

During the two-year project, Dr. Knezevic will work with four Nebraska producers to test propane-fueled flame weed applications on three commonly grown crops: corn, soybeans, and sorghum. Test fields will be split in two, with one half for tillage and one for flaming. A variety of crop, soil, landscape, and weather data will be collected to demonstrate the difference between the two halves and estimate potential soil loss.

“As environmental concerns grow, farmers must look for new ways to control weeds and pests,” says PERC Director of Agriculture Programs Mark Leitman. “Propane flaming provides an environmentally friendly option because it can reduce the risk of soil erosion from tillage and pesticide runoff from excess rainfall.”

Propane-fueled flame weed control offers an additional benefit over conventional tillage by conserving soil moisture. And, unlike chemical methods of weed suppression, it cannot be compromised by immediate rainfall and weeds cannot build up a resistance to flame.

In addition, Leitman says clean-burning propane has a smaller carbon footprint than most other fuel choices and is nontoxic, which means there is no pollution risk in the case of a spill or leak.

PERC’s vision is that by 2010 the agricultural industry will embrace propane as a preferred energy source that offers cost-effectiveness, efficiency and productivity, reliability, portability, and environmental friendliness.