Did you know you can fight weeds with fire?

Farmers looking for an advantage in the battle against unwanted plants in their fields have a new tool in the toolbox: flame weeding.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska have developed a propane heat system to kill weeds without damaging the surrounding crops. The practice is already popular with organic farmers.

While the technology sounds brand new, the practice of flame weeding dates back to the 19th century, and the first known patents on flame weeding equipment were issued in the 1860s. The method, also known as “flaming,” gained popularity in the early 20th century and continued into the 1960s when pesticides became popular.

The research led to the founding of a company, Agricultural Flame Innovations, which has been selling equipment since 2012.

The flame weeder consists of torch ends and burners connected to a propane tank mounted onto the back of a tractor. The burners produce a carefully controlled flame that briefly passes over weeds. The heat essentially explodes the weeds’ cells, disrupting water and nutrient flow, killing the leaves and preventing photosynthesis, and turning the visible portion of the weed into ash. The ash mixes with soil and is not harmful to other plants.