Rocky View County – a municipal district in Alberta – says it has begun using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in an ongoing fight against a persistent and dangerous enemy: noxious weeds.
In rural Alberta, noxious weeds can cause millions of dollars in damage to crops and livestock, as well as pose a serious risk to native wildlife and plant species, according to a news release from the county.
Provincial law requires all landowners to control or destroy dozens of different weed species that pose an economic or environmental threat. As part of the directive, Rocky View County says it conducts weed inspection and enforcement programs on private lands and mounts an aggressive program to control and eliminate weeds on public land.
This year, the county has stepped up those efforts with the deployment of a drone.
“We can face coulees, steep river banks, dangerous outcroppings and other hazards that make land inaccessible to weed inspectors,” explains Jeff Fleischer, county agricultural fieldman. “These hard-to-reach areas are often where noxious weeds start to take control, so a drone with real-time video and photos is proving invaluable in helping us locate and identify the threat.”
Fleischer says early identification of weed problems through the use of a drone can save the county and private landowners a great deal of money and effort.
“As the old saying goes, nip it in the bud. If we can identify a weed infestation early, it can be very straightforward and cost-effective to control or eliminate the problem,” he says.
Earl Solberg, Rocky View County deputy reeve and agricultural service board chairman, agrees: “Noxious weeds infest pastures and crops, alter natural habitats, compete with native plants, and impact animal, insect, and bird species. While there is a cost to control them, it’s nothing compared to the cost of the damage they can do if left unchecked.”
County staff are trained on the operation of the UAS, which will be used only for weed inspection purposes. It will fly throughout the growing season, and the county will conduct a full evaluation of this first season’s operation later in the year.
“So far, response from the public has been very positive,” adds Fleischer. “Most rural residents understand the importance of fighting noxious weeds, and they’re excited to see the county bringing this technology into the battle.”