Pest Patrol: Weed Zapper offers an alternative solution for killing weeds

#PestPatrol with Mike Cowbrough, OMAFRA

A check strip on left where the Weed Zapper was not used — visible effects on weeds apparent on the right side.

One day during the summer of 2019, our future daughter-in-law came home one day pretty pumped about a new piece of farm equipment she had heard about. Shelby’s father’s farm has been in organic crop production for about 20 years now, and “some guy” was coming to try to zap the weeds in the soybeans. Cool, I thought, that was something I had never heard of before.

Shortly after that, I was chatting with our region’s provincial director, Phil Oegema, at the Outdoor Farm Show. He was telling me about a new weed control method he had been using since midsummer on his organic crops. Turns out, Phil was “that guy” zapping weeds not far from here. I quizzed Phil about the Weed Zapper, and here’s what he told me: his Weed Zapper consists of a copper pipe and discs mounted on a boom in front of the tractor (Phil’s model is 30 feet wide). The discs are adjustable to different row widths, assist in height control and act as a ground for the high-voltage electricity. A PTO-powered generator is mounted on the back of the tractor, and a transformer converts the power to 14,400 volts which kills everything, according to Phil.

Obviously, you need to keep the copper pipe above the crop canopy!

Phil has been very happy with the weed control he is seeing so far. Weed structure appears to have an effect on efficacy — most weeds with good stems are hit the hardest, and he is seeing better success where there is higher weed pressure. A key factor is getting good contact with the weeds, so slow speeds are most effective. Phil typically tries to run at about 2.5 to 3.5 mph.

He says he has seen amazing control on Canada thistle in wheat, and feels it is dramatically effective on giant ragweed and giant sow thistle. Phil notes that while it does “a pretty good job” on grasses, foxtail appears to be set back by three to four weeks but doesn’t completely die off.

An example of the “zapped” weeds above the soybean canopy. photo: Phil Oegema

Phil believes that the Zapper would be a possible alternative weed control option in IP soybean fields, and where chemical resistance may be an issue. He notes that his 30-foot version requires a 200-hp tractor to keep the generator at maximum output, especially in heavy weed situations. He has heard of the Zapper being used in various different applications, and suggests tire spacing on the tractor is about the only limiting factor.

He purchased his Weed Zapper from a manufacturer in the United States, which he says is a “small family operation.” At the time, Phil thought this was the only Zapper in Ontario but a few more have shown up on social media since then.

Thanks, Phil, for letting me share this and for sending along some photos, too. I certainly learned something new and hope you folks enjoyed reading about it as well!

To learn more about the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association and how to become a member, visit ontariosoilcrop.org.

Cathy Dibble is the Thames Valley Regional Communication Co-ordinator

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