Helicopter Herbicides Attack Invasive Weeds in Pastures

Controlling invasive species in hard to reach areas is requiring a new approach to brush control. ( Jared Wareham )

Necessity is the mother of invention—cattle producers are using helicopters to apply herbicides to control invasive weeds and put pastures back into grass production.

There’s more than 60,000 cows in Wythe County in southern Virginia, but this area is at 3,000’ elevation with lots of steep hills and valleys that are hard to access with farm equipment.

In his ranch video series, Jared Wareham, Drovers’ New Generation columnist, visited with Matthew Miller, Extension agent with Virgina Tech, to hear how area producers are using helicopters to spray brush in these hard-to-access areas. 

“There’s part of ground you can’t get over with a tractor. You can get over it with a four-wheeler but it’s inefficient to spray larges acreage. So one of the new thing’s we’ve seen this year is helicopter-application of herbicide,” Miller says.

Saving labor and time is also a major benefit, they add. The speed and precision this method of herbicide application offers is a win.

Is it expensive?

“You’d think the cost would be much greater than a tractor application or typical truck application,” Miller says. But most times, the application cost could be comparable to any other tractor or truck application, depending on availability.

Aerial applicators typically have an acreage (or volume) minimum. Producers that have 40 to 50-acres are more likely to use this setup. There are grant funds available for producers in southwest Virginia, but other states might have some as well. Ask your local Extension agent about applicators and prices in your area.

It’s made a huge difference in controlling large areas of brush and even invasive species, Miller says, allowing marginal ground to return to highly productive grazing land.