Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Book Reviews – Winter 1997-1998

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Winter 1997-1998 \ Reviews

Steel in the Field
USDA Sustainable Agriculture Network
128 pages; Free online

Steel in the Field: A Farmer’s Guide to Weed Management Tools shows how today’s implements and techniques can handle weeds while reducing – or eliminating – herbicides. In practical language and layout, the book presents what farmers and researchers have learned in the past 20 years about cutting weed-control costs through improved cultivation tools, cover crops and new cropping rotations.

Steel in the Field is the first tool-centered book to combine farmer accounts, university research and commercial agricultural engineering expertise. It directly tackles the hard questions of how to comply with erosion-prevention plans, how to remain profitable and how to manage residue and moisture loss. It also addresses variables such as field size and uncooperative weather.

Farmers – 22 of them – do a lot of the talking, sharing their struggles and successes with tools, weeds, herbicides and cropping systems. Their advice ranges from the specific (setting mini-disks 0.75 inches deep and 2 inches away from the 2-inch tall plants) to the general, such as one farmer’s estimate of the correct speed for using his coil-tine weeder: “as fast as you can hang on is fine.”

Mechanical weed control works in many situations. The book highlights successful examples on no-till cotton in Georgia, corn and soybeans across the Corn Belt, safflower in Utah, wheat in Texas and Oregon, barley in North Dakota, vegetables in Massachusetts and California, and more.

Original line drawings accompany technical summaries of 37 implements and 18 accessories. They include rotary hoes, wide-blade sweep plows, high-residue cultivators, automatic guidance systems and back-pack flame weeders and are presented in three groupings: agronomic row crops, horticultural crops and dryland crops.

Each tool entry describes how the tool works and lists its recommended tractor horsepower, ground speed and list price. To compare the field use of dissimilar tools, the book graphically shows the size of crop where the tool is intended to work and the size of weeds it is designed to control.

Timing is emphasized repeatedly, as in knowing when to put a tool in the field, how to adjust it and how fast to pull it. Practices that suppress or prevent weeds are also important. Winter and summer cover crops, delayed planting and weed-fighting crop rotations are discussed. The farmers frequently mention the benefits from improved soil health and soil organic matter.

An appendix lists contact information for weed specialists and for 105 equipment sources, including specialized tractors for cultivation.

The Sustainable Agriculture Network is the outreach arm of USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which promotes farming practices that are economically viable, environmentally sound and socially responsible.

MOF&G Cover Winter 1997