Air-propelled abrasive grits reduce weed abundance and increase yields in organic vegetable production

Sam E. Wortman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Abrasive-weeding is a novel weed management tactic with potential to reduce tillage and hand-weeding in organic agriculture. However, abrasive-weeding has not been tested in vegetable cropping systems and growers are interested in the potential for using organic fertilizers as abrasive grits to control weeds and supplement crop nutrition in one field pass. A two-year field study was conducted at the University of Illinois Sustainable Student Farm to determine the effect of air-propelled abrasive grit type, including organic fertilizers, and application frequency on weed density and biomass and crop yield and marketability in organic tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) and pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) cropping systems. Abrasive-grits, including granulated walnuts shells and maize cobs, greensand fertilizer, and soybean meal, were applied via compressed air between one and four times within planting holes of plastic mulch. Weed density was quantified 25 or 37 days after the first application and weed biomass was harvested at the end of the growing season. Tomatoes and peppers were harvested ripe and graded for marketability. Two applications of abrasive grits, regardless of grit type, reduced weed density by 63% and 80% in tomato and pepper, respectively. Broadleaf weeds were more susceptible to abrasive-weeding than grass weeds. Abrasive-weeding reduced final weed biomass by 69-97% compared with the weedy control, regardless of grit type or application frequency. Total tomato yield was up to 44% greater in treated plots compared with the weedy control, whereas total yield gains in pepper (up to 33%) were only approaching significance (p = 0.09). Yield and the marketability of fruit was not negatively affected by grit application, despite minor stem and leaf tissue damage after applications. Organic fertilizers used as abrasive grits in this study could contribute between 35 and 105 kg N ha-1, which may improve the functionality and economic feasibility of abrasive-weeding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-162
Number of pages6
JournalCrop Protection
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Non-chemical weed control
  • Organic farming
  • Pepper
  • Physical weed control
  • Tomato
  • Weed blasting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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