Weed Spraying by Backpack – It’s Not Efficient, But It’s Important

A common theme on this blog has been that farmers always try to do more with less; which is just another way of saying that in most ways possible we try to be as efficient as possible. That can be quantified in time, labor, use of tools such as chemicals, water management, etc. All of it comes down to doing more with less. But sometimes there are jobs on the farm that are really inefficient by nature and…they are really annoying.

One in particular is one that we do almost every spring, spraying some of the very hard to kill weeds that we have around our farm, sometimes in the field and sometimes on the headland of our fields. Three that quickly come to mind and are on my radar today are blackberries, wild carrots and Canadian thistle.

Blackberries growing along one of our orchards and the roadway.

There seems to be a well accepted myth that pesticides including herbicides kill all living things, in truth that just isn’t the case. When managing weeds in and around our fields we have to take into account the growth stage of the weed, the timing of the year, the temperature of the air, and choice of herbicides, what is labeled, and rates on the label. Also will the herbicide kill it? Will it suppress it? Will it just hold us over until something better can be used at another time of year?

The timing windows on herbicides and weed control are very important. A good example of this is that until a few years ago we didn’t have good control of blackberries in the spring when they are actively growing and starting to take over. We were not able to spray crossbow because it can easily volatilize with the heat this time of year and hurt the surrounding plants, which is not a good thing. Now we have an herbicide that is safe to use even when it gets into warmer temperatures during the spring. Adding a completely new timing window to safely and effectively control blackberries. Unfortunately however, that tool doesn’t kill or control thistles or wild carrots.

Here is a prime example of an area on the edge of one of our fields that has all three weed issues.

And here is where we hit this whole efficiency problem. Today I’m out spraying with a backpack along our borders. I’m getting areas that have blackberries first with my backpack filled with a mix of PastureGard. I’ll come back later with another backpack mixed to control thistles. And then for third time, rinse and repeat, with a backpack to kill the wild carrots.

This job is annoying because it takes 1000 years to do. But it’s also very important to keep weeds suppressed before they become an issue in the actual crop land and can quickly become a much larger, and a much bigger efficiency problem than just me with a backpack. So one could argue that by doing this annoying job, I’m actually making things more efficient for the future….I mean it doesn’t feel like that to me, but one could argue.

Out with the Old and In with the New….Filberts

I would just write everyday about how it’s still raining, but that gets old for all of us. So instead I thought I’d share about what we did on that one day that it didn’t rain…I know you all remember it a few weeks back. We planted new filbert trees! Actually the more accurate term would probably be replacement trees because the last few years we have stopped adding new acres of hazelnuts (often referred to as filberts) here on our farm and instead are removing older varieties and planting new baby trees.

Our older varieties are Barcelona and were planted back in 1990. This was before blight was really a big “thing” in our area and not something that we had to work very hard to control or manage. That has changed a lot in the past 30 years and with new tree development from Oregon State University we have newer varieties that are resistant to the blight that we are currently having to control in our older trees.

By controlling I mean the use of heavy pruning each year and also fungicide sprays multiple times per year. In turn the new varieties help in reducing labor costs and also the use of fungicides. It’s not quite a win win however because you’re taking down a tree that has been producing an income for you and replacing it with a tree that will take years (usually around 4) before it is producing enough crop to harvest. Meanwhile we are still caring for and nurturing that tree, which all costs money.

We have been slowing chipping away at our older orchards. This planting is only 13 acres and will start to get harvested in the year 2026 or 2027. The variety of tree is Polly O’s along with a handful of pollenizer varieties mixed in as well.

We are planning to wait for a few more years before we take out the final acreage of Barcelonas, they are still producing well and while they take a little more care, it economically makes sense to wait until a few of our newer trees are making some income before completely taking everything out. It’s always easy to make an excuse to leave trees in that are producing nuts because when the price is high you need all the nuts you can get, and when the price in low you need all the nuts you can get….see what happened there, there is no good time when looked at face value, but when you sit and calculate the costs, there comes a time when you just have to move forward with a new variety.

We have had a few more days of drying the past couple of weeks and we are slowly chipping away at getting our crops fertilized, planted, and weeds killed; but it’s been frustrating so far this year. Time will tell what this all means for all of our bottom line, until then we will keep chipping away hoping for more sunshine!

Two of the busiest days in farming

Farming is very centered around things that are out of our control; and I put weather very close if not at the top of that list. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that what makes a farming day busy is a direct correlation. Day 1: when it starts to rain. Day 2: when it finally dries out.

Day 1 is usually in the fall. We are waiting for rain to help water in chemical to keep our fields clean, we are planting in hopes for some good rains to give it a good start. We are working fields to get some moisture to help break up the clouds that don’t allow for a good seed bed. The day before it starts to rain in the fall is usually never long enough to get it all completely done; but that doesn’t mean you don’t work your tail off trying.

Day 2 hits in the late winter – early spring. the day that fields are finally dry enough from the wet patterns of winter weather. There is fertilizing, planting, spraying, spot spraying, strip spraying. The day the soil dries out enough to not get stuck, you wish you could go 100 different directions all at once.

The Triage of Fall Farming

The Triage of Spring Farming

So as spring break starts around here for our kids it looks like we also may be getting a nice stretch of drier weather to allow for possibly a window to get as much caught up as we can. Last week as another thunder shower poured down outside my office Matt and I were discussing how the most frustrating thing about it all is knowing that you’ve done all you can and yet the day it dries out we know that we are instantly behind. That’s farming for you!

Getting ready because it has to dry out someday!!

It’s been a wet and cold start to spring so far this year here in the Willamette Valley. But things will warm up and we will be harvesting before we know it. Time will tell if it’s going to be a late start to harvest though, I know there are a lot of very small sized crops out there, and a lot of that can be contributed to the fall rains that didn’t come until very late. It’s all connected, it’s all a cycle and we just have to keep rolling on getting as much done to prepare to be able to execute on those two busiest days of the year!

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