An economic comparison of weed management systems used in small-scale organic vegetable production

  • Bryan Brown
  • Aaron K. Hoshide
  • Eric R. Gallandt


Weed management strategies likely provide trade-offs in economic implications. Farmers may prioritize weed control during the “critical period” of the crop and ignore subsequent weeds; they may focus on the long term by eliminating additions to the weed seedbank with a “zero seed rain” approach; or they may suppress weed emergence with polyethylene (PE) or hay mulch. We aimed to compare the economic trade-offs of these approaches by implementing each system in a test crop of yellow onion (Allium cepa L.). We found that the zero seed rain system required the most weeding labor and the most evenly spread workload, while the hay mulch system required the most concentrated workload, due to the task of mulching. Despite the labor costs of the zero seed rain and hay mulch systems, net farm income (NFI) was most sensitive to onion yield and these systems resulted in the greatest NFI. The hay mulch system represented the least economic risk, followed by the zero seed rain, PE mulch, and critical period systems, respectively. In a subsequent crop of sweet corn, NFI was decreased 2524 USD ha−1 in plots where the critical period system had been implemented the previous year, likely due to increased weed competition. Overall, despite the long-term focus of the zero seed rain and hay mulch systems related to the weed seedbank and soil quality, respectively, these systems were most profitable in this short-term study.


Critical period Zero seed rain Mulch Enterprise budget Economic risk Onion 



We are grateful to farm manger Joseph Cannon; our field technicians Thomas Macy, Anthony Codega, and Isaac Mazzeo; and interns Lydia Fox, Diego Grossman, and Lucia Helder.

Funding information

Funding for the work reported here was provided by a Graduate Student Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, entitled Balancing economy and ecology: A systems comparison of leading organic weed management strategies, project GNE14-072-27806, This project was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project number ME021606 through the Maine Agricultural & Forest Experiment Station. Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station Publication Number 3582.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Food and AgricultureUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.New York State Integrated Pest ManagementGenevaUSA
  3. 3.School of EconomicsUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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