Cozad farmer electrocutes weeds
Zzzap! An unfamiliar sight and sound moves across a soybean field east of Cozad. A tractor attachment, called The Weed Zapper Annihilator, electrically shocks plants when they come into contact with a copper bar. About 14,400 volts sends 10 amps through the weeds standing above the crop canopy, causing the weeds to bow in defeat.
“It’s the instant gratification that gets us excited,” said Matt Burkholder, a Cozad-area farmer for 23 years. “You hit them and they fall over.”
Born and raised in Cozad, Burkholder is a third-generation farmer carrying on the family business established in 1945. In 2007, he began farming organically and now a majority of his fields are organic. Burkholder primarily grows alfalfa, oats, soybeans and corn.
“We were looking for an alternative to rogueing,” he said. “To hire a crew to rogue is $100+ an acre, and The Weed Zapper is about $25 an acre.”
Burkholder learned about The Weed Zapper while researching organic farming practices on the University of Wisconsin website. He saw a YouTube video demonstrating the attachment and was intrigued. Burkholder ordered the attachment in November 2018 and it was shipped to him in April.
The Weed Zapper technology works by forcing an electrical current through a plant’s stem. The current boils the water inside the plant’s cells, bursting the cell walls. Plants with soft, pliable stems like grass are not as easily affected.
The attachment crosses 12, 30-inch-wide rows and is made of copper bars, insulators and grounding discs. A 150,000-watt generator and transformer are hitched to the back of the tractor and plug into the power take-off. It is estimated that it can cover 12.5 acres in one hour.
Computerized controls and monitoring ensure electrical safety. If the coulter raises off the ground, the driver gets out of the tractor seat or the monitor senses a loss of motion, all electrical output will stop.
To provide a visual cue to others nearby, the transformer and generator attachment activate a strobe light when in use. It is recommended that people in or near the field stay at least 20 feet away from The Weed Zapper while in operation.
Burkholder plans to use The Weed Zapper as a tool to keep weeds down in addition to his rotary tiller and cultivator.
According to The Weed Zapper website, the attachment was invented by two brothers from Illinois in 2015. The goal was to find a solution for organic weed control and herbicide resistant weeds. In 2017, two brothers from Missouri purchased The Weed Zapper technology and prototype and began production through their company, Old School Manufacturing, LLC. Currently, there are five of these attachments owned by farmers in Nebraska.