LEWIS & CLARK COUNTY — Landowners across the state wage a war against weeds every year. According to a 2019 report from the Montana Department of Agriculture, an estimated 197,000 acres of state land alone are infested with noxious weeds, costing an average of nearly $60 an acre to manage.
However, new technology aims to give landowners a new tool to fight back weeds and cut down on the time it takes to manage large areas of land.
Drones are already used for many industries like surveillance and delivering packages, but in a live demonstration near Gates of the Mountains, drones can spray herbicide and attack acres upon acres of weeds. The organizer says it takes about six men spraying to do what one drone can do.
“It definitely beats hauling a 4-gallon bag of pesticide up a hill. Guys get tired. The drone doesn't get tired, doesn't complain. It just gets the job done," says David Cahoon, owner of Cahoon Aerial Systems.
David Cahoon and his brother created a weed-spraying drone after hearing from many ranchers about the amount of work it takes to spray weeds. They learned that a by-hand application can use up to 20 gallons, whereas a drone can spray a whole acre with just two gallons.
“As we fly a grid or as I go manually, it will actually rate the pump up or rate the pump down and it will manage my altitude for me. So, I only have to worry about obstacles and where I'm trying to fly," says Cahoon.
One landowner witnessed the demonstration hosted by the brothers and admired the possibilities.
“That's the challenge with weeds. They don't just grow on the side of the road, as everybody knows. They are not just in the fields. There are a lot of tough weeds in some tough country, that's hard to get to. These drones don't care,” says John Baucus, a landowner. “They have the ability to do, much easier, the same thing that takes us a lot of work."
It is not just weed-spraying, the drones can also offer grass-seeding across large areas.
Montana has more than 30 species of plants it considers noxious weeds.
Each one of Montana's 56 counties has a weed district that can offer more tips and help in developing plans for managing noxious weeds.