Winning The Weed War

ATV with Trimble AgGPS EZ map software

As farmers take to the fields to begin planting in Colorado, so do the weed management workers who are responsible for spraying, tracking, and analyzing weed control efforts for farmers and government agencies, as well as enforcing noxious weed laws.

But it’s not just about spraying. Teams of weed control workers go out in trucks and four-wheelers and drive along country roads spraying for weeds and recording everything they do. An observer to this “system” was Elaine McCallum of software developer Red Hen Farming Systems.

“They would stop every mile or so to write down where they were in relation to geographic markers, what weeds they identified and what sprays they used,” she said. “The process was time-consuming and the information extremely difficult to analyze.”

It led McCallum and her team to engage the Larimer County Weed Control District in northern Colorado on a pilot project this past May. The object: to streamline the documentation aspect of the weed control specialists’ job.

The Equipment

Red Hen began by equipping two of Larimer County’s eight weed management trucks with Recon rugged handheld computers from Tripod Data Systems. Each Recon was equipped with a CompactFlash card with GPS capabilities and was connected to the truck via a serial cable. In addition, each Recon was loaded with AgGPS EZ-Map software from Trimble, designed specifically for field and environmental data logging and mapping.

“Most of these guys don’t even use a desktop computer on a daily basis, so we knew that the technology had to be user-friendly and easy to learn,” said McCallum. The Recon fit the bill, she says, because it’s small, lightweight, and most importantly, able to withstand “in-the-field” punishment.

Following training, the workers took to the roads with their new equipment. Now, with the GPS unit automatically tracking the territory covered by each truck on the computer throughout the day, and using the handheld computer as they traveled throughout the county, the workers could quickly and easily indicate which weeds they were spraying and the kind of spray being used.

At the end of each day, the workers returned to the office and downloaded the information onto a desktop computer running Red Hen’s FarmGIS desktop management tool. Using this, Larimer County Weeds could automatically create electronic maps and reports indicating what kind of weeds were sprayed, how many feet each worker covered, the exact territory each truck covered per day, and other analysis about the time, date, and cost of each task.

In just a few months, Larimer County Weeds reduced the time and costs of documenting weed management tasks by more than 50%.

“When the workers didn’t have to stop the truck every mile or so to write down where they were, what time it was, and what they were doing, efficiency in the field skyrocketed,” said McCallum. “The time-savings was recognized across the organization, from the workers in the trucks to the people responsible for invoicing.”

The county plans to move the “pilot” project to full implementation this year, adding the system to its entire fleet.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

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