Ethanol Byproduct Might Control Weeds

The entanol boom that has already increased corn prices could possibly help no-tillers even more in the future by reducing their need for herbicides.

Scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are trying to identify new uses for farm-based commodities that could be made commercially viable. For example, plant physiologist Steve Vaughn and colleagues have found that distillers dried grains (DDGs) — a byproduct of converting corn into ethanol that is usually fed to livestock — might be useful for fighting weeds and reducing herbicide use.

In laboratory, greenhouse and field studies, Vaughn has shown that applying DDGs as surface mulch can suppresses weeds while aiding the growth of tomatoes and some turf grasses. In one study, Roma tomatoes in DDG-treated plots yielded 226 pounds versus 149 pounds from untreated control plots. He credits some of the increase to nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients released by the DDG mulch.

In a related study, researcher Mark Berhow is examining how the DDG mulch might keep chickweed, annual rye and other weeds from germinating. Another researcher, Rick Boydston, tested the mulch’s weed control in potted ornamentals. He found that DDGs worked best when applied to the soil surface, because mixing them into the soil harmed both the ornamentals and the weeds.

The ARS researchers note that ethanol producers generate 10 million tons of DDGs annually in the Midwest alone. Farmers buy most of the material for about $80 per ton for livestock feed. However, the nation’s increasing production of ethanol could…

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