Gallandt and his team spent last summer researching the effectiveness of the Weed Master, an innovative Finnish machine that’s best described as a small, human-powered tractor. During a sabbatical in Copenhagen several years ago, Gallandt met European colleagues who work on weed management in organic systems. One of them introduced him to the Weed Master.
The device combines the best aspects of hand tools — lightweight, small, portable — with the versatility and add-ons of a tractor. Gallandt wanted to know if a machine like this would benefit Maine farmers, and he received a grant from the Maine Agriculture Center to import a Weed Master and tools such as a flame weeder.
During the 2009 growing season, he worked with three Maine organic farms — Peacemeal Farm in Dixmont, run by UMaine alumnus Mark Guzzi; Fisher Farm in Winterport, run by Rose, Joe and Dennis Fisher and UMaine alumna Beth Haines; and Fail Better Farm in Montville, run by Clayton Carter. Students at UMaine’s Black Bear Food Guild ran a concurrent experiment comparing the efficiency of weeding by hand or with a short- or long-handled hoe, a wheel hoe and the Weed Master.
They found that overall, the Weed Master didn’t provide superior weed control, but it was exponentially faster than cultivating by hand or with any of the other tools. And in a small-scale operation, time is money.
“Farmers were pretty impressed with how fast it worked and how easy it was to adjust the tools to the unusual crops and planting patterns that they have,” Gallandt said. “It was very simple.”
Gallandt and his colleagues in New Hampshire and Vermont recently wrote a $2.4 million grant to purchase Weed Masters, along with specialty hand tools from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine, for on-farm research in those states, as well.
“Farmers could really use some innovation on their farms,” Gallandt said. “We’d like to retool northern New England for small- to mid-scale diversified vegetable farming by getting farmers exposure to innovative tools.”
Image Description: common lambsquarters