Organic Horticultural Weed Control
Duckworth Family Farms
Interview by Jeremy Winer with Oscar and Lorrie Duckworth.
As the owner of Weedtechnics, I strive to deliver top quality customer service and trouble shoot issues when they arise. Our organic horticultural weed control systems are an advancement on our preexisting technology. As a company we are proud to have our technology operating in a variety of horticultural locations. One of these locations is an organic you pick blueberry farm in Sebastopol California, named Duckworth Family Farms. I visited Duckworth Family Farms to provide a service to their machine and upgrade their equipment. The the additions were the Rowtech 80cm head and Tracktech arms. When the work was done husband and wife co-owners, Oscar and Lorrie Duckworth, were happy to sit down with me and discuss their business, values and the impact Satusteam™ has had for them.
The Vision for Duckworth family Farms
Lorrie’s vision for Duckworth family Farms is a you-pick organic blueberry farm. Integrating into the ecosystem in a way which restores the biodiversity that the region has lost. The vision for the farm sprung from Lorrie’s childhood experiences. “So I grew up being able to go out to family farms and pick fruit and produce, as a small child back in the 60s, so we’ve come a long way since then. When we moved here, we were going to the grocery store and buying things, and everything tasted the same. And I wanted to go back to what I had as a child, to be able to pick something, have it be fresh and have it taste great.”
During my weekend spent with the Duckworth’s I felt a connection to the country that I only feel when nature is thriving. It was a profound experience entering the farm on the second day, it felt like coming home. The farm has a beautiful location and a welcoming atmosphere. I shared this sense with Lorrie who was delighted “For us, it’s not just the fact that we grow organic blueberries that the public come out and pick themselves, that’s huge, what’s important is they bring out their families and then when they’re here, blueberries are great, but we want to extend the experience”.
The farm itself is filled with biodiversity and holds its own special ecosystem. This is a defining characteristic of an organic farm untouched by the effects of toxic chemicals. “The difference between an organic farm and an inorganic farm is the insects, the wildlife and we have water features thriving with life. In providing that, you cannot be a chemical farmer.”
The Struggles of Finding an Organic Horticultural Weed Control Solution for Organic Blueberry Farms
They began to explain the struggles of starting a blueberry farm within the environment they had chosen. It was proving difficult to find an organic horticultural weed control solution for their location. When advisors and suppliers came to assess their organic site, the advice they received was “You can’t do it, you can not grow blueberries organically, you’ll have too many weeds.” They said “We’ll get you set up with the plants, but secretly, we’re going to deliver you these chemicals because you cannot compete against these weeds”. But this news did not dishearten Oscar and Lorrie and they took the advice with a grain of salt.
Lorrie shared the experience of having the advisors wandering the property with her as the sun sunk behind the North Sonoma Mountains “When it came to dusk, because this is an organic farm, about 10,000 frogs start sounding off, and we’re walking through this field that they thought might be a good fit, (for blueberries) and the older man turned to the younger man and said “oh my gosh I have not heard them sing like this since you were probably a baby, I wonder where they all went, and why we don’t have any in our central valley?” And I kept thinking, oh my god it’s the chemicals.”
Finding a Better Organic Chemical Free Weed Management Solution
Determined to keep Duckworth a toxin free organic farm, they began using the means they had to solve their weeding problems. We have students and travellers who stay here for education, experience and board in return for their labour. “So we would hand weed, 20 people everyday, 5 days a week and we barely kept ahead of it, and we’ve done this for years, so we started looking for something that would help us out, anything”. Hand pulling was extremely labour intensive and on a farm this size, it became impractical.
Lorrie and Oscar only had one criteria for their new solution. “It had to be organic, if I use a chemical spray, there is no way I can let 3 year olds come out and pick from my bush, and eat it, no way at all. So our goal was to try to find something that we could do that was non-toxic, that we could effectively use year in year out, on this organic farm”.
Lorrie searched for organic horticultural weed control solutions and she came across the Weedtechnics website. Immediately, she contacted our California dealer extremely interested and with a great need. Within days they drove to Fresno, CA, and picked up their new Satusteam™ solution. They have been using the system for 2 years. When asked how the solution was tracking, Oscar, who is an extremely skilled mechanic, engineer, welder and blueberry farmer, stated “two years experience tells us that herbicides would never work anyway with how shallow the root zone is; however, the steam hasn’t given us any trouble whatsoever. There’s been no damage whatsoever to the blueberries. Although it’s been very damaging to the weeds. This system replaces 20 workers with just one man at the steering wheel”.
Operating Through COVID-19
In early 2020, the world began to shut down due to the COVID-19 virus. Putting a stop to the steady stream of tourism, WWOOF (Willing Workers on organic Farms) and working visa holders. This could have been disastrous for Duckworth Farms who were heavily reliant on labourers. Oscar tells me “During COVID it was very difficult to get the people, and thank goodness we bought this system before COVID because, as I may have said before, this device replaces 20 people. And at our age, this is one of the defining things that keeps us in business because weed control is so costly, so labour-intensive, so difficult to acquire, that we needed to do something or we were going to have to move on, it just wasn’t working out for us”.
For 8 years the pair were out hand weeding every day with 20 other workers. The timing of finding this solution saved their business. Purchasing in late 2019, it was time to put the machine to work and see the promised results. Lorrie says “So we’ve removed these 20 people, and Oscars out here doing it by himself, and we’re like “oh my gosh, this works”. Its kill rate is immediate and then overtime killing the seeds, killing the aphids, killing everything that’s in the ground but they don’t come back. They stay clean for months and I’m very impressed with this”.
Perfecting the Horticultural System with Saturated Steam based weed control
As the owner of the company I admit that the first set up for the applicator heads that Oscar purchased was not ideal for his situation. He is a clever engineer and had made it work but it didn’t sound ideal. In the lead up to my visit, I felt that since his purchase we had come up with a better solution. The Tracktech self tracking arms are a horticultural game changer. I wanted to see if I could help him improve his efficiency further.
With a few hours in the workshop with Oscar, the new Tracktech arms and Rowtech 80cm head were fitted to his tractor mower. Pulling his SW900 Satusteam™ trailer, Oscar was impressed with the ease of operation and delighted with the increased productivity.
The Satusteam™ Difference in Weed Management
Set in the beautiful hills of Sebastopol, North California, Duckworth family farms harbours a vast variety of flora and fauna. The farm attracts all kinds of wildlife. Its fresh, crisp air, beautiful ponds, water features, blueberry fields and veggie garden are maintained through healthy soils and flourishing biodiversity. Of course, this is not without the help of beneficial insects and pollinators, vital to any ecosystem. Lorrie sees the additional benefit of Satusteam™ is the safety to non-target species. “You know the benefit is, we are heavily reliant on pollinators here, so I am not killing any of my bees with Satusteam™, and we use Bumble Bees here. We use our native pollinators, we do not bring in bee boxes, so we are especially susceptible to anything”.
It’s hard to describe how rewarding it is to me that Satusteam™ is making such impact on at Duckworth Farm. It brings me great joy that Satusteam™ is assisting in the ecological process’ on the property. Lorrie stated that “since we’ve started using this system, we’ve had a lot of farmers from all over the world call us, and a lot of local farmers come in to take a look at this to try to implement it, because it’s safe, it’s clean, and most importantly it’s fast. Now with the new system, we reckon it’s about 40 to 1 on savings on labour”.
After 20 years pursuing my vision to innovate and develop Satusteam™ as a solution for weed management, this is the type of result and feedback which is music to my ears. My vision, assisting wonderful stewards of the land like the Duckworths achieve their vision. Weedtechnics exists to provide solutions to those who have a desire to manage their land in a holistic manner. To those who genuinely care about the preservation and regeneration of their environment. “You’ve made a huge difference in our life, your machine keeps us in business, we wouldn’t actually have been able to expand without Weedtechnics” said Oscar Duckworth.
Learn more about our horticultural systems here.
Sidonie is the Digital Marketing Associate at Weedtechnics and is the daughter of Managing Director Jeremy Winer. She shares the same passion and enthusiasm for ecological solutions to better the environment as Jeremy. Content writing is a key speciality of hers within the marketing department and she loves that it combines her passions for writing and environmentalism.
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