Weed control with high-temperature steam

  • Oct 30, 2019

A couple of times in this Game Changers column, I’ve written about the need for alternate weed control methods. With the rapid increase in herbicide resistant weeds and a public increasingly wary about agricultural chemicals, herbicides are no longer a silver bullet to solve all our weed problems.

Partly because of those columns, organic farmer Ron Gleim of Chaplin, Sask., an old acquaintance, asked if I wanted to be part of a new venture. Gleim has invested his own money to conduct research proving that high temperature steam can be used for non-selective control of vegetation.

This novel sprayer uses electricity to generate steam in a shrouded boom to rapidly kill plant growth.

This approach is used in some small-scale orchard and vegetable production, but Gleim believes it can be scaled up for use in field crop production through a process he has patented.

Dubbed the X-Steam-inator, the novel sprayer uses electricity to generate steam in a shrouded boom to rapidly kill plant growth. 

Organic farmers attending the product launch at Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina back in June were excited by the potential to have weed control options beyond tillage, but the technology should also have a place in conventional agriculture.

Rather than herbicide tank mixes to control weed growth prior to seeding, steam could do the job. Generating the electricity through some combination of diesel power and high-tech batteries, it’s intended to cost far less than herbicides.

Water use is substantially lower than the volumes used for herbicide application. A small amount of water produces a lot of steam. However, the water will typically have to go through a reverse osmosis system to remove mineral deposits.

With proper guidance and shrouds, the intent is to design a system for weed control between crop rows. It may also be possible with precise control of the steam temperature and the proper application methods to desiccate field crops prior to harvest without affecting the quality of the grain.

At this point, although the concept has been proven, there are more questions than answers. A great deal of testing is required to determine the interaction between steam temperature, travel speed and the density and type of weeds to be controlled.

It will be at least 2021 before commercial units are widely available for purchase. The plan is to start with a pull-type model and then develop a self-propelled version. It may also be feasible to fit units to the front of seed drills to kill weeds as a crop is planted.

Stay tuned. I believe this approach could have widespread ramifications for agriculture, including cost savings, and as a potential tool to manage herbicide resistance. It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and there’s certainly a necessity for new ways to attack weeds.

From an AgriSuccess article by Kevin Hursh.