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Baldwin: Will flame cultivation of weeds return?

I am sure the younger generation is convinced I have totally lost it with my recent articles. However, the folks who have lived through some of the things I am discussing are into them.

I recently had two e-mails asking when I was going to discuss flame cultivation. Both writers had interesting comments about flame cultivators, which speak volumes about the technology of the day! Keep in mind that all of the weed control technologies I am discussing from the mechanical cotton chopper to modern herbicides were implemented in efforts to get away from hand weeding.

Before I get to flaming, I thoroughly enjoyed the recent Delta Farm Press articles on the group in Clay County, Ark., who have made it a top priority to whip the pigweeds. First the articles speak volumes about how an Extension program is supposed to work. It also shows what happens when folks get mad at the weeds. That is what I have been trying to get across for a couple of years now — the answers to the pigweed problem are not going to be easy.

We are all (including weed guys like me) spoiled by easy weed control. Whipping the pigweed problem you already have, or preventing one if you do not have it, is going to require getting mad at the weeds and pulling out all the stops.

I wasn’t sure when to include flame cultivation in my history, because I am not exactly sure when it came along relative to some of the other technologies. However, since two readers prompted me, here goes.

By the way, my wife, Tomilea, is convinced we are ultimately going back to flaming for weed control. I think she is wrong, but I lose a lot more disagreements with her than I win!

A flame cultivator consisted of a big butane tank mounted on the rear of the tractor with a pair of burners for each row — essentially sitting under the tank with lots of rubber hoses. If you happened to be around when the Concorde took off in Little Rock several years ago or have heard a fighter jet light the afterburners on take-off, you have heard a flame cultivator in action.

The sights and sounds and the fact you had a 250-gallon or so butane tank sitting right behind you were all quite intimidating, to say the least. A driver never sat easy in the seat but rather prepared to bail and run on a moments notice!

I still remember the photos of the brand new John Deere tractor my counterparts at MSU burned to the ground trying to do flaming experiments — actually in the late 1980s or early 1990s!

Earlier when I discussed herbicidal oil, I stated that it had to be used on small cotton while the stems were still slick or waxy. The flame cultivator then came in after the stems had formed bark. If not, the flame would kill the cotton.

One of my e-mail responders commented that whether the cotton stem was waxy or had formed bark meant everything when using oil or flame. He also commented that his driver (and it was hard to find one willing) preferred to run the machine at night and a four-row rig looked and sounded like an F-16 taking off in the cotton field.

The flame cultivator was most effective on vine weeds like the morning-glories. They formed a lot of vegetation close to the ground where most of the heat was directed.

I remember writing an article about flaming when I first went to work for the University of Arkansas in 1974. I also remember writing an article not too many years ago stating that the most effective tool on morning-glories in cotton was a flame cultivator and that I would hate to know I had to find one running. I had a couple of folks respond that they still used one.

An attempted advancement in flaming technology was the water-shielded flame where a spray of water was directed above the flame to protect the cotton more. Now you not only have a butane tank on the tractor but a spray system as well. It was a great idea, but as I recall, it never went anywhere.

While the article may seem trivial, flaming was a common practice in its day. It was replaced by a series of great herbicides and herbicide technologies. If we continue l’oosing these tools one at the time, who knows — my wife may be right!

TAGS: Cotton
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