Grow Appalachia is a 100% organic program and Herbicide poisoning is a rising concern for all farmers.

A participant in the High Rocks Grow Appalachia program has experienced herbicide (also known as weed killer) poisoning this growing season. Their tomatoes and beans have been impacted the most out of all of their crops. Although the specific source has not been identified, the compost they used in their high tunnel has a high probability, that it was contaminated.  A few years ago, they sprayed herbicide on their farm to kill a certain weed. Over time, the animals on the farm ingested the herbicide. The composted manure from farm animals was added to the soil for organic matter. A soil test could be performed, however, there is a high cost to narrowing down the specific herbicide. There are multiple herbicides, having various active ingredients, making it unlikely that a single analysis would determine the source. They were presented with many options on what to do to remove the plant poison. Adding legumes and grasses as cover crops was the first recommendation, they could also remove the plastic from their high tunnel and allow rain to wash away the majority of the herbicide. These methods could work, but as mentioned previously, it won’t be known if either method works until the following growing season.

In recent years, many gardeners in WV have experienced plant injury from herbicides. It has been theorized that the weather changes have contributed to a longer growing season, producing more weeds, resulting in more residents using herbicides to control the nuisance. Herbicides can linger in grass clippings, hay, mulches, various composted material for years at a time. The issues arise when individuals use herbicides without reading the product labels thoroughly. The main cause of herbicide damage has been related to using compost that have been contaminated by the weed killers. Water run-off and airborne particles can also be causes of poisoning.

Herbicide damage is a serious issue. Injury from such problems are irreversible. The contaminated crops would have to be forfeited for the given growing season. There are some solutions, however, the only definite fix is time. One solution recommended by the WVU extension service (304-293-4221) is to use a cover crop high in carbon. Over time, the carbon breaks down the toxins in the soil. Such cover crops would be legumes, and grasses. Specifically cow peas and sorghum Sudan grass. When the time is right, it is recommended that the cover crops be cut and burned. The grass and peas will absorb the toxins, and if used the following season, the cycle of poisoning would continue.

It was found that tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and beans are most susceptible to herbicide poisoning. However, all crops would be absorbing the toxins, but may not show physical injury. Their fruit would still be contaminated. Ingestion of said fruit could cause serious health issues. Therefore, the contaminated crops should be removed and burned.  A word of caution goes out to all gardeners, make sure you are aware of the source of your compost and amendments.