Propane Approved for Organic Farming

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 3, 2005) – Propane recently realized yet another agricultural advantage when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) formally recognized thermal weed control using a propane flame or heat as an authorized organic production practice.

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Regulations state that an organic agricultural producer must use management practices to control weed problems through flame, heat, mowing, livestock grazing, hand weeding, mechanical cultivation, or electrical means.

Now that it’s been authorized, organic farmers can use propane-generated heat to eliminate the weeds invading their crops.  When the heat is applied to the weed, the temperature of the moisture in the plant’s cells quickly rises. This causes the plant’s cell structure to rupture, thereby preventing nutrients and water from entering the weed’s stalks and leaves.

Thermal weed control with propane cannot be reversed or compromised due to an immediate rainfall, as is the case with some chemical treatments. Plus, weeds are not able to develop resistance to the extreme heat generated by propane.

“In addition to being highly effective, thermal weed control offers agricultural producers a clean-burning and environmentally safe option,” said Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) Agriculture Programs Manager Mark Leitman. “Propane is insoluble and nontoxic, so it is not harmful to soil or water. Using thermal weed control can also minimize tillage, reduce soil erosion, and preserve soil moisture.”

Food producers or handlers intending to sell, label, or represent agricultural products as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic ingredients” must adhere to the weed-control methods outlined in the NOP Regulations.

NOP was created to facilitate domestic and international marketing of organically produced fresh and processed food to assure consumers that such products meet consistent, uniform standards.  Since the organic labeling regulations went into effect, consumers have been able to confidently purchase foods that have been produced with the highest organic production and handling standards in the world. USDA estimates that annual organic sales have reached approximately $11 billion with no signs the demand for organic food products will subside.

“Official recognition of thermal cultivation as part of the USDA National Organic Program is a critical addition to propane’s well-known agricultural attributes of portability, environmental friendliness, safety, and reliability,” says PERC agriculture consultant John Emmitte.  “We’ve known for years that propane technology can aid organic farming. Now is the time to broadcast the fact that propane is officially recognized as a ‘USDA Approved’ form of weed control.”

The inclusion of thermal cultivation in the USDA organic standards is a vital evolution toward one of the PERC Agriculture Roadmap’s prime targets: establishing propane as a key part of organic farming by 2007. In anticipation of the growing organic market, the propane industry has invested more than $1.1 million since 1999 in research projects to reduce agriculture producers’ dependence on chemical pesticides.

Researchers at Texas A&M University have developed covered flame burner technology for use in preventing weeds in row crops such as soybeans and cotton. Propane industry investments will also lead to the presentation of propane-powered, thermal weed control technology at the 2005 World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. and field testing of the technology in the weeks following that event.

PERC’s vision in agriculture is that by 2010, the agricultural industry will recognize propane as a preferred energy source offering exceptional value. This value is achieved through a unique combination of product benefits, including cost-effectiveness, efficiency and productivity, reliability, portability, and environmental friendliness.

For more information on PERC and its programs to promote the safe and efficient use of propane in agriculture, call (202) 452-8975 or visit and click on the “Trades” link.