Weeds are plants that are unwanted in a given situation and may be harmful, dangerous or economically detrimental. Weeds are a serious threat to primary production and biodiversity.
They reduce farm and forest productivity, displace native species and contribute significantly to land and water degradation. The costs of weeds to the natural environment are also high, with weed invasion being ranked second only to habitat loss in causing biodiversity decline.
• Weeds have serious impacts on agricultural production. It is estimated that in general weeds cause 5% loss in agricultural production in most of developed countries, 10% loss in less developed countries and 25% loss in least developed countries.
In India, yield losses due to weeds are more than those from pest and diseases. Yield losses due to weeds vary with the crops. Every crop is exposed to severe
competition from weeds. Most of these weeds are self-sown and they provide competition caused by their faster rate of growth in the initial stages of crop growth. In some crops, the yields are reduced by more than 50% due to weed infestation.
• Weeds compete with crops for water soil, nutrients, light, and space, and thus reduce the crop yields. An estimate shows that weeds can deprive the crops 47% N, 42% P, 50% K, 39% Ca and 24% Mg of their nutrient uptake.
• Weeds are also act as alternate hosts that harbor insects, pests and diseases and other micro-organisms. Alternate hosts of some of the pest and diseases
Weeds reduce the quality of marketable agricultural produce. Cotamination of weed seeds of Datura, Argemone, Brassica etc., is harmful to human health and weed seeds present in the produce cause odd odour sometimes.
• Weeds not only reduce yield but also interfere with agricultural operations. Weeds make mechanical sowing a difficult process and render harvesting difficult, leading to increased expenditure on labour, equipment and chemicals for their removal.
• In aquatic environment, weeds block the flow of water in canals, water-transport system and drainage system, rendering navigation difficult. The dense growth of aquatic weeds pollutes water by deoxygenating it and killing the fishes.
• Weeds are also a nuisance and a fire hazard along railway lines, roads, right-of- ways, airports, forest and industrial sites.
In spite of all the difficulties caused by weeds, they can offer some beneficial properties, particularly when occurring at low densities. These aspects should be utilised in the farming system, although this may make organic management more complicated than chemical based systems. Some of the potential benefits of weeds are listed below:
• Helping to conserve soil moisture and prevent erosion. A ground cover of weeds will reduce the amount of bare soil exposed helping to conserve nutrients, particularly nitrogen which could otherwise be leached away, especially on light soils.
• Food and shelter can be provided for natural enemies of pests and even alternative food sources for crop pests. The actual presence of weed cover may be a factor in increasing effectiveness of biological control of pests and reducing pest damage.
• Weeds can also be valuable indicators of growing conditions in a field, for example of water levels, compaction and pH.
• Weeds can be an important source of food for wildlife, especially birds. Bird populations have been declining on farmland over the last few decades and leaving weeds as a resource has been shown to help revive bird populations.