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Weed control supervisor gave organic farm control options; farmer says they’ve tried

Fire, herbicides and repeated heavy, deep tillage are among possible weed control alternatives suggested by Sherman County.
Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on May 15, 2017 5:25PM

Last changed on May 16, 2017 5:10PM

The CEO of Azure Standard, which operates an organic farm that Sherman County has threatened with quarantine due to “rampant” problems with noxious weeds, said he has tried some of methods suggested by the county’s weed control supervisor.

David Stelzer said Azure Farm, in Moro, has used and will continue to use heavy tillage, mowing and covering weeds with landscaping fabric to cut off sunlight. He said a permitted organic herbicide typically would include acetic acid, which “just burns the tops off” weeds and doesn’t kill them. He said it would have to be reapplied multiple times over a large area, which is not practical and is expensive besides.

Stelzer said he might be open to using chemical herbicides if it was limited to a particular patch of weeds that is causing problems for neighboring farmers. “It we took two acres out, that wouldn’t be the end of the world,” he said.

But Stelzer said he won’t spray it himself.

“Furthermore, I wouldn’t even know how,” he said. “I’ve never sprayed chemicals. I don’t have a person on this farm licensed to spray chemicals. We wouldn’t be qualified.”

The 2,000-acre farm would lose organic certification for three years if it used the herbicides used by conventional farmers, such as Milestone. Azure Standard, with headquarters in Dufur, in neighboring Wasco County, is a major producer and distributor of organic products. Although Stelzer said he might be open to spot use of an herbicide, he also warned the company might take legal action if Sherman County forces it to lose organic certification. The county has said it has the authority to spray the weeds and bill the farm through a lien on property taxes.

“I feel if they did go in and spray against our will — I have talked to attorneys about this — if they did actually do that it could have serious consequences from a legal perspective,” Stelzer said.

The farm’s problems with weed control come to a head on Wednesday when the Sherman County Board of Commissioners takes up the issue. Other farmers in the area worry that weeds spreading from Azure Farm will contaminate their certified wheat fields, and say they’ve had to spray their own ground more often due to weeds, which has added to their expense.

The count said it will ask the Oregon Department of Agriculture to quarantine the farm if it does not agree to a weed management plan by May 22.

“Your control practices are not destroying the weeds, specifically the root systems that continue to flourish after mowing,” weed control Supervisor Rod Asher wrote in an April 27 letter to Azure Standard, the farm’s parent company.

Asher suggested several ways Azure Farms might be able to control the noxious weed:

• “Heavy deep tillage that would rip up and bring the root to the surface,” but said it probably would have to be done every 10 to 14 days through the growing season.

• Covering the weeds with dark plastic or rubber to block out the sunlight. Escaping shoots would have to be cut off during the growing season and the coverage would have to be maintained for multiple years.

• Treatment with organic herbicides. “I am not familiar with any of these so I cannot make a recommendation,” Asher said.

• Treatment with traditional herbicides. The farm would lose organic certification for three years after the last application.

• Intense burning or “any other method that can effectively destroy the entire plant and root,” Asher wrote.


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