BIOS Field Day: FoamStream Demo and Talking Organic Weed Management

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) hosted a Biologically Integrated Orchard Systems (BIOS) field day on November 30th in Clements, CA. Farmer Alicia Lewis-Rikkonen arranged a demonstration of a novel weed control technology, called FoamStream, in her olive orchard and vineyard. The demo, provided by Oscar Veloz with TurfStar Inc, and following discussion highlighted the many challenges and emerging opportunities of managing weeds organically. 

Oscar Veloz demonstrating how the FoamStream machine works. (Photo by Nolan Kirby)

Hanna Kahl, CAFF’s Ecological Pest Management Specialist, kicked off the event by introducing CAFF and the BIOS project. The BIOS project just wrapped up its second year of fieldwork studying the effectiveness of mating disruption, cover cropping, and natural enemy releases as pest control methods in walnuts. In the future, the BIOS team is looking to expand its scope into pest management in winegrapes and other farming systems. 

Hanna then introduced Alicia Lewis-Rikkonen, who connected with CAFF during one of the Lodi Wine Grape Commision’s IPM Breakfast Meetings. Alicia has been growing olives for two years and winegrapes for four years, and has historically had challenges controlling weeds like yellow star thistle and pokeweed with organic methods. Her research, spurred by her dedication to not spray pesticides, led her to FoamStream, which seemed promising as an organic spot-treatment for some of those tougher weeds on her farm. 

Alicia Lewis-Rikkonen introducing her farm and her experiences with organic weed management. (Photo by Nolan Kirby)

Alicia then introduced Oscar Veloz with TurfStar Inc., who provided the demonstration of the FoamStream technology. Oscar explained that FoamStream is a topical application that utilizes hot water and biodegradable foam to insulate and heat-treat weeds, killing established weeds and sterilizing above-ground seeds without harming the soil or tree trunks. Because of the foams insulating effect, it requires only half the water needed for normal steam weeding. It is most commonly used for turf grass, and increasingly used by municipalities and schools as an alternative to chemical sprays. While it is currently not widely used in agriculture, there has just recently been some preliminary efforts to assess its effectiveness and applicability in agriculture.

Oscar and an attendee applying the FoamStream on weeds in the olive orchard. (Photo by Nolan Kirby)

As everyone gathered in the olive orchard, Oscar powered up the FoamStream machine and demonstrated how to apply the foam/water mixture. Since the application does not require any permit or certification, attendees were able to try out the application themselves. Alicia described the application as a “Zen-like” experience, akin to steam cleaning a carpet. Attendees were also able to observe weeds that Oscar had treated 48 hours prior, which were sufficiently wilted and even blackened. 

After the hands-on demo, attendees gathered to discuss the challenges and successes they’ve encountered in trying to manage weeds organically. Growers shared their experiences with sheep grazing in vineyards, cover cropping to suppress weeds, and different types of mowers and cultivators. We also discussed the accessibility of equipment, and the opportunities for tool sharing and equipment rental programs. 

Blackened weeds that were treated with FoamStream 48 hours prior. (Photo by Alicia Lewis-Rikkonen)

Attendees had a fun hands-on experience and provided lots of insight on the potential for using FoamStream in agriculture. Organic weed control is a challenge many growers face, and hopefully attendees were able to learn from each other’s experiences and expand their weed management toolkits together.