13 August 1999

Ripping times for ragwort

No chemicals, no topping, no

danger to livestock, Alvan

Blanchs Eco-Puller rips out

ragwort – roots and all.

Andy Moore reports

UNPALATABLE when green and growing – deadly when dried and eaten, ragwort is an accident waiting to happen for livestock.

It follows then, that effective control of the weed is important if expensive livestock casualties are to be avoided. And this can be difficult, particularly where use of herbicide is not possible.

Historically, the solution has been to physically yank weeds from the ground by hand. Alvan Blanchs weed pulling machine aims to mimic this hand-pulling action.

Weeds are drawn into the 1.5m wide machine by a chain and slat system. The stem of the weed is then gripped between two belts as they rotate around their respective rollers. With a firm grip ensured as the stem is held by pressure from the rollers, further movement of the belts extract the weed from the ground.

According to Alvin Blanch, the speed of the belts in relation to forward speed is critical – too fast or too slow a ground speed will result in a poor performance.

Once extracted, the weeds continue their trip between the belts to be deposited either behind the machine on the ground or collected in a hopper for later disposal.

Worked in an offset position to avoid the tractor running on weeds, power can be supplied from the pto or, if specified, from the tractors hydraulic system.

July and August are considered to be the optimum months for pulling ragwort – before pollination takes place and the weed becomes very poisonous.

Alvan Blanch recommends that, to prevent snapping, ragwort should be pulled from as low as possible and suggests that pastures should be well grazed to enable low pulling heights to be achieved.

Pulling height is adjusted by hydraulically raising the body off the wheels to a distance of 12cm to 40cm (5in to 15in).

On flat well grazed ground, the Eco-Puller is designed to work at speeds at 3 to 4mph, covering with the 1.5m (5ft) pick up head, about 1ha (2.4 acres) a day.

The Eco-Puller has been designed to cope with ragwort densities of over 12 plants per square meter with an extraction rate of up to 90%. A second pass may be required about two weeks later.

The simplicity of its action perhaps belies the years of development work Alvan Blanch has put into producing the Eco-Puller to its present stage.

Now in production, the company reports that five units are now operating in the UK – three by English Nature, one by a contractor and one by the Ministry of Defence.

Current trials would indicate that dense weed population could be reduced by as much as 60% in the second year and after three years, weeds should effectively be under control.