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Project Proposal Summary

"Atarus Stinger" Steam Weeder

Dr. Thaddeus Gourd, Extension Agent (Agriculture)
Colorado State University Extension in Adams County
Kelly Uhing, State Weed Coordinator - Colorado Department of Agriculture


Thermal weed control systems using steam or flame treatments of crop and non-cropland weeds may offer significant benefits over existing weed control methods. Research at Colorado State University indicates that timely applications of flame can reduce weed populations in organic crops such as alfalfa. The use of steam instead of conventional flaming could have some distinct advantages. Steam treatments allow one to eliminate fire risks and flame damage to sensitive environments. Also no smoke is produced when weeds are steamed rather than flamed. The use of steam eliminates the potential of human or wildlife exposure to pesticide residues and does not contaminate water, soil, or air.

Treating with steam using propane as the fuel source could help address weed, insect and disease concerns of Colorado growers. A trend towards sustainable agriculture has encouraged efforts towards identifying effective, environmentally safe and economical alternatives to pesticides.



The Objectives of This Project

The purpose of this study is to examine if thermal (flame or steam) treatments of crops and field borders in the spring, summer and fall can reduce annual, biennial and perennial weeds common along the Colorado Front Range. A flame treatment will be compared to a steam treatment efficacy for the control of weeds and insects in alfalfa. Also, steam treatment weed control will be investigated for use in non-cropland applications such as irrigation ditch banks, irrigation pipes, and walkways between beds, edges of the beds, and roadsides. The main focus of this study is to research the effectiveness and economics of using thermal weed control methods in crop and non-cropland. This project will also include producing educational materials and hosting a field demonstration.

"Atarus Stinger" steam weeder
"Atarus Stinger" steam weeder.

Thermal weed control techniques (flaming and steam) typically apply heat directly to the weed, quickly raising the temperature of the moisture in the plant’s cambium cells. The rapid expansion of this moisture causes the cell structure to rupture, preventing nutrients and water from entering the stalk and leaves, with dieback resulting in most plant species.

In 1999 A. Bertram investigated heat transfer rates of steam/air mixtures for thermal weed control. He found that a thermal generator would have to reach at least 60 degrees C in order to kill plant species he tested in the laboratory.

The thermal weeder called "Atarus Stinger" was developed in 1998 by Origin Energy of Australia. Its primary use was to eliminate weeds in vineyards. Their thermal weed control system incorporates a patented Water Quenched Combustion technology using special burners to generate steam. This technology combines the steam with the hot gases and air to give the best possible medium for speed of application and lowest fire potential. According to research from Australia, all annual weeds can be controlled as effectively as using the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) when thermal weed control is properly timed. These results were from research conducted on grapes, potatoes and turf.

At this time little research has been done on this type of steam thermal weeder in the United States. No research of this type has ever been performed here in Colorado. Organic growers in Colorado and throughout the United States have a need for independent, unbiased research to determine the efficacy of such a device.



"Atarus Stinger" steam weederBecause of the variety of crops and non-crop sites used for this project, we will need to adapt the steam thermal unit to suit our needs. This will include the development of a trailer to carry the unit and special attachments on the nozzle ends to direct and contain the heat and steam. These special attachments will be necessary on the nozzle ends for the various applications, i.e., weed control of a fence line would require a different configuration from weed control along the edges of plastic mulch. The estimated cost for machinery like this can run in excess of $15,000, therefore we depend on donations and grants to defray the costs of this device.

This project will encompass the 2002-growing season, which will be approximately six months (April to September). This project could have the potential to be expanded into 2003 to look at late winter (February and March) weed control, based on research findings in 2002. Ideally we would like to have the steam thermal weeder operational by April 1st in order for weekly weeding to occur and for the thermal weeder to be used on the full spectrum of weed varieties and under different environmental conditions.



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