Key science: Many Little Hammers and Integrated/Ecological Weed Management

Liebman and Gallandt, 1997

Matt Liebman and Eric Gallandt, “Many Little Hammers: Ecological Management of Crop-Weed Interactions,” In Ecology and Agriculture,” Ed: L.E. Jackson, 1997, Academic Press.


This is the first introduction of the phrase “many little hammers” to describe what is now known as integrated weed management, or IWM.  IWM relies on using a diverse assortment of weed control methods, possibly along with some herbicide use, along with changes in crop density and rotation to achieve weed control. See more here.  FULL TEXT

Liebman and Davis, 2009

Matt Liebman and Adam Davis, “Managing Weeds in Organic Farming Systems: An Ecological Approach,” In Organic Farming: The Ecological System, Ed: Charles Francis, 2009.


In this chapter, we describe major components of the weed management tool kit for organic farming, highlighting areas in which important advances have been made in the last decade. We then argue that instead of approaching the development of multitactic weed management strategies as a purely empirical, trial-and-error activity, the choice and deployment of weed management tactics should instead be informed by insights from ecological theory… Finally, we emphasize the need for ongoing dialog between empiricists and theoreticians and between scientists and farmers, so as to better direct scarce research resources and management time to where they are likely to be most beneficial. Multitactic weed management strategies informed by theory should be useful not just to organic farmers but also to conventional farmers who seek to reduce their reliance on herbicides due to concerns over herbicide resistance in weeds, rising production costs, and environmental and human health risks associated with herbicide exposure. FULL TEXT

Davis et al., 2012

Adam S. Davis, Jason D. Hill, Craig A. Chase, Ann M. Johanns, and Matt Liebman,  “Increasing Cropping System Diversity Balances Productivity, Profitability and Environmental Health,” PLoS One, 2012, 7:10, DOI: 10.1371/JOURNAL.PONE.0047149


Balancing productivity, profitability, and environmental health is a key challenge for agricultural sustainability. Most crop production systems in the United States are characterized by low species and management diversity, high use of fossil energy and agrichemicals, and large negative impacts on the environment. We hypothesized that cropping system diversification would promote ecosystem services that would supplement, and eventually displace, synthetic external inputs used to maintain crop productivity. To test this, we conducted a field study from 2003–2011 in Iowa that included three contrasting systems varying in length of crop sequence and inputs. We compared a conventionally managed 2-yr rotation (maize-soybean) that received fertilizers and herbicides at rates comparable to those used on nearby farms with two more diverse cropping systems: a 3-yr rotation (maize-soybean-small grain + red clover) and a 4-yr rotation (maize-soybean-small grain + alfalfa-alfalfa) managed with lower synthetic N fertilizer and herbicide inputs and periodic applications of cattle manure. Grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in the more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than, those in the conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs. Weeds were suppressed effectively in all systems, but freshwater toxicity of the more diverse systems was two orders of magnitude lower than in the conventional system. Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.  FULL TEXT

Fisher, 2012

Madeline Fisher, “Many Little Hammers: Fighting Weed Resistance with Diversified Management,” 2012, Society of Agronomy Report, available online at:

Liebman et al., 2016

Matt Liebman, Bàrbara Baraibar, Yvonne Buckley, Dylan Childs, Svend Christensen, Roger Cousens, Hanan Eizenberg, Sanne Heijting, Donato Loddo, Aldo Merotto Jr, Michael Renton, Marleen Riemens, “Ecologically sustainable weed management: How do we get from proof-of-concept to adoption?,” Ecological Applications, 26:5, 2016, DOI: 10.1002/15-0995


Weed management is a critically important activity on both agricultural and non‐agricultural lands, but it is faced with a daunting set of challenges: environmental damage caused by control practices, weed resistance to herbicides, accelerated rates of weed dispersal through global trade, and greater weed impacts due to changes in climate and land use. Broad‐scale use of new approaches is needed if weed management is to be successful in the coming era. We examine three approaches likely to prove useful for addressing current and future challenges from weeds: diversifying weed management strategies with multiple complementary tactics, developing crop genotypes for enhanced weed suppression, and tailoring management strategies to better accommodate variability in weed spatial distributions. In all three cases, proof‐of‐concept has long been demonstrated and considerable scientific innovations have been made, but uptake by farmers and land managers has been extremely limited. Impediments to employing these and other ecologically based approaches include inadequate or inappropriate government policy instruments, a lack of market mechanisms, and a paucity of social infrastructure with which to influence learning, decision‐making, and actions by farmers and land managers. We offer examples of how these impediments are being addressed in different parts of the world, but note that there is no clear formula for determining which sets of policies, market mechanisms, and educational activities will be effective in various locations. Implementing new approaches for weed management will require multidisciplinary teams comprised of scientists, engineers, economists, sociologists, educators, farmers, land managers, industry personnel, policy makers, and others willing to focus on weeds within whole farming systems and land management units. FULL TEXT