Comparison of mechanical vs. chemical weed control in sugar beet – Environmental effects: soil erosion, earthworms, CO2e-emissions

Chemical weed control is widely criticized because of its potential ecotoxicological risks. However, the environmental effects of mechanical weeding have not been studied yet. This study aims to evaluate the effects of hoeing, herbicide spraying and combined hoeing-spraying in sugar beet on soil erosion, earthworm abundance, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Field trials were carried out in Lower Saxony on five sugar beet fields from 2019 to 2021. Runoff and soil erosion were measured by means of rainfall simulation on 2-m2 subplots after weed control. The earthworm abundance was determined in autumn using formalin expulsion. The resources consumption and GHG emissions of each weeding strategy were estimated using KTBL and Biograce online tools. The earthworm abundance was not affected by weeding strategy in most cases. Cumulative runoff and soil loss were six and eight times lower after hoeing compared to herbicide spraying, but only if the soil was crusted before rainfall simulation; otherwise, weed control did not affect soil erosion. The GHG emissions for mechanical and combined mechanical-chemical weed control were higher by factor 2.5 and 1.7, respectively, as compared to the reference chemical weed control. Hence, hoeing is, though non-toxic and erosion-retarding, the weeding strategy with the highest carbon footprint.

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Language: English

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