By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
Although spring flowers have yet to bloom, counties and agricultural districts around Alberta are already trying to get the word out about invasive species on farms and in pastures. According to Jason Storch, agricultural supervisor for Cypress County near Medicine Hat, this sense of urgency is heightened by the after-effects of last summer’s drought as many producers trucked in feed to offset local hay shortages.
“When people started talking about buying feed, forage and straw for the upcoming winter last year because of the drought, we thought it would be a good idea to let people know there is some concerns when they are bringing feed in from other areas. In your home territory when you are feeding your cows your own hay, you are kind of aware of what in there as far as potential weeds to watch for. But sometimes when hay is brought in from other jurisdictions there can be invasive species that are in that feed that you are not familiar with.”
Storch has one vexatious example of this from his home county.
“In Cypress County we do have a situation where the weed Scentless Chamomile actually came into the county that way when there was some feed brought in; at least that’s as far as the landowner and ourselves can figure out. That’s a new weed we didn’t have and now we do. It’s one more expense for the county and one more expense for the landowner, and if we can find some way to avoid these kind of (contaminations) that would be great,” says Storch.
Storch stresses the importance of producers and landowners being particularly vigilant this coming spring.
“With most invasives we try to deploy the theory of early detection and rapid response,” says Storch. “So let your municipality know right away if you see anything that shouldn’t be there. We would far rather go out and do a weed inspection and find it was nothing to be concerned about then have one of those serious invasives get established because nobody said anything.”
It comes down to realistic management expectations as well, says Storch.
“We try to focus on the areas where we can have the most impact,” explains Storch. “For example, right now we have placed a very high priority in dealing with the Scentless Chamomile because we have very few places in the county where we have it. We put our resources where we think we can have the greatest effect. You don’t give up on other areas, but your method changes from trying to eradicate to trying to manage.”
Storch says farmers have far fewer options once invasives get well established in pastures or along waterways.
“Control methods do depend a bit on the specific weeds,” says Storch. “With Scentless Chamomile it is easily hand-picked, and taken away. Usually we burnt it. That’s method for preventing the spread. Knapweeds are another that can be hand-picked. But there are some, like Leafy Spurge with its elaborate root system, where that’s not an option. You are pretty much limited to herbicide application as a means of control.”
Targeted methods of control always work best when it comes to pastures and other natural areas, says Storch.
“If there is some way of changing a management strategy and doing it without any herbicide application that is obviously best, but it is not always an option. For the majority of situations we come across a plain, old general handsprayer works or quad sprayer. Some of these herbicides are expensive and if we don’t have to apply them in an area where there are no weeds, we don’t want to. And if we can avoid harming the other vegetation around the invasive that’s best for the land and weeds in general. You don’t want to eliminate the competition,” says Storch.
Other methods of control include targeted grazing or use of weed wipers.
Russel Muenchrath, agricultural fieldman at Wheatland County near Strathmore, uses weed wipers as another tool his arsenal to control invasives. The County actually rents a 30 foot one out to its ratepayers to encourage better control measures for weeds.
“It’s a wick system,” explains Muenchrath. “There is a tank on it you put a limited amount of herbicide and water in. The model we have you can either get a gravity feed system or the liquid flows down through hoses and the wick soaks it up. Ours has a little 12 Volt pump on it you can hook into your quad or whatever you are pulling with to push the liquid into the wick.”
The weed wiper works on a targeted application and height adjustment basis.
“You don’t want to be pushing so much through that it’s dripping,” says Muenchrath. “You want just enough to keep the wick saturated to wipe off the weeds. It’s a tow-behind machine with a height adjustment on it. You are assuming your weeds are taller than your grass or forage species, and you just wipe the top of those weeds.
“Canada Thistle is a good example here. You set it for the height you need and go over those patches. So you just go over those patches, you don’t set it the same throughout the entire field.”
It’s just one more valuable tool in the arsenal to help producers and municipalities fight the encroachment of invasive species and troublesome weeds, says Muenchrath.
“You use less herbicide. It’s very focused so there is less cost. And it also means less time in the field spraying as well. It’s not the type of equipment every producer is going to buy. And other rental outfits may not be necessarily interested in providing these. For us as a county, because we look after the weed control act, it’s a good option for our ratepayers to get rid of some of their invasive weeds.”
Vigilance, early detection, quick eradication and ongoing management. The war against weeds will never be won, but with some dedication and effort the threat can certainly be moderated, says Storch.
“We believe in trying to educate people and work proactively with the producers. We ask people to be vigilant. And in the spring if they find something unusual growing to call your county’s fieldman, and we will come out and take a look and try to help producers as best as we can to deal with it.”