Friday, June 15, 2007

Natural weed control

There is a great front-cover article by Jim Gransbery in the Billings Gazette today. As part of a series of articles about the upcoming farm bill, it deals with various aspects of the sheep-raising industry.

One of the most important uses that sheep can be put to today is in controlling leafy spurge and some other noxious weeds that cattle won't eat -- and that can be harmful to them.

A lot has been written in modern organic agricultural literature about the dangers of monoculture when it comes to raising crops. The old-fashioned practices of rotating crops which take different nutrients from the soil, of rotating crops that put nitrogen back into the soil, etc. had great advantages. There is also less risk of massive disease or weather factors wiping out entire crops when a variety of crops are grown.

Less attention has been paid to the value of rotating grazing between species such as sheep and cattle. Leafy spurgue would be less of a plague in this part of the world had sheep grazing been part of the mix all along.

The farm bill may list sheep as an alternative weed control measure. It may also provide some help in competing against foreign producers, and encourage a higher grade of wool -- there is some encouraging data in Gransbery's article that indicates that the sheep industry, once looking like it was heading toward extinction, is making a come-back.

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