The landmark decision by a US jury that one of the world’s best-known weedkillers was responsible for a groundkeeper’s cancer surely signals the final nail in the coffin for Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. The court found that manufacturer Monsanto (now part of pharma giant Bayer) “acted with malice or oppression” in failing to warn 46 year old Dewayne Johnson of the health hazards inherent in his exposure to the chemical.


Johnson was awarded $289 million in damages, and while Monsanto is, naturally, appealing the verdict, the writing is on the wall. The World Health Organization categorized Gyphosate as ““probably carcinogenic to humans” back in 2015, and since then, its use has been steadily restricted and banned in a growing list of countries. Six EU nations signed up to an exit plan in 2017, Germany joined the campaign earlier this year, and now there are 13 countries that prohibit the use of the chemical.


What might be a disaster for Bayer, however, represents an opportunity for those of an enterprising nature who can come up with an alternative that does not have the same health implications. And one of the most compelling of these is coming from an unusual angle.


Boil away the weeds


The need to find non-chemical alternatives to weed control is one that is well understood in the agricultural sector. Some farmers have resorted to mechanical tillage, which carries several disadvantages. It is ineffective and labour-intensive, but worse, disturbing the soil causes dramatic loss of moisture through evaporation.


A solution that is attracting a growing following is to use steam treatment to get rid of weeds for good. High temperature steam kills weeds thermally, and is highly effective as it is different to any process to which the weeds are naturally adapted. The steam penetrates the growing tips, delaying the rapid regeneration that we so often see with other forms of weed control such as dry thermal (burning) or mechanical tillage and cutting.


It has the additional benefit of leaving no unpleasant or dangerous residue. And provided you have a good aim, you can control weeds without damaging the crops that are around them.


Specialist equipment


This innovative method of weed control has led to a number of startup businesses offering their own take on steam-powered systems. There are even some providing tips on how to build a device of your own, but if you have ever asked yourself how does a solenoid valve work, you will know this is not a project to be taken lightly. An effective system requires precise temperature control and effective dosing. This means the components, and solenoid valves in particular, have stringent performance requirements and need to be robust and able to withstand high temperatures and corrosive steam, while at the same time, consuming minimal power.


There is truth in the saying that as one door closes, another opens. There are those who might have political reasons for mourning the loss of Roundup, but for the rest of us, steam power provides all the gain and none of the pain when it comes to managing weeds, whether it is on a commercial basis or in the back garden.