A Natural Herbicide's Humble Roots Acton MA
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A Natural Herbicide's Humble Roots
Corn gluten meal has gone from byproduct to wonder product. Researchers at Iowa State University in the 1980s were studying how effective a corn byproduct would be as a fertilizer. In the process, they realized the product acted not only as a growth stimulator, but also as a weed inhibitor. The result was a natural weed-and-feed product that gives homeowners a chemical-free way to feed their turf and kill weeds, such as crabgrass, dandelions, pigweed and plantain, before they take root. It is marketed at garden centers, hardware stores and by mail order, under brand names that include Bio-Weed, WOW!, ProPac, Vendetta, Dynaweed, WeedBan and Earth Friendly. Corn gluten meal is a 60 percent corn protein material that contains approximately 10 percent nitrogen by weight. It is a byproduct of a corn milling process and is used in poultry and cattle feed, as well as fish and dog food.
During trials led by Dr. Nick Christians of Iowa State University, researchers discovered that certain test plots contained fewer weeds. At first, the researchers were baffled. But upon further examination, they discovered that corn gluten meal, or proteins, had the ability to stop root formation. With no roots, the weeds died. Researchers fine-tuned the concoction, obtained a patent in 1991 and began marketing it. Today it is sold as a yellow granular product, typically in 25- and 50-pound bags. It is effective on lawns, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Tests have shown that corn gluten meal applied at the rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn will reduce crabgrass infestation by 50 to 60 percent in the first year. Nearly total weed control is possible as rates are increased. Because corn gluten meal is a weed inhibitor, it is effective only before the weeds germinate. This means that the product must be applied in a short window each spring before the weeds take root. Any weed that has formed a root will not be controlled by corn gluten meal - as is also the case with synthetic pre-emergence herbicides. For his work, Christians was named the 1996 Iowa Inventor of the Year by the Iowa Intellectual Property Law Association.