Every year, a variety of noxious weed species ravage rural and urban landscapes across the nation. In addition to the impeded development of native plant communities, failure to effectively control these troublesome plant species can lead to safety hazards, infrastructure damage, restricted visibility on the roads and unwanted pests.
To make matters worse, the spread of noxious weeds can also have negative effects on agricultural business and local economies. Considering the potential for such detrimental impact, North Dakota law requires the effective control of 13 noxious weeds throughout the state. And while licensed applicators work diligently to ensure effective control on a variety of application sites, many companies have made a commitment to educating businesses and the general public on best management practices as landowners are held equally responsible for managing weeds on their respective land.
As a Barnes County weed control officer and president of the North Dakota Weed Control Association board of directors, Jamen Windish understands the threat of noxious weeds and what it takes to control them properly. From cutting and handpulling to flaming, grazing and alternative methods of biocontrol, Windish has seen or heard of every treatment technique in the book. But when it comes to effectively controlling noxious weeds and keeping them at bay, he commonly recommends one strategy above all others.
“There’s an option for everyone out there,” Windish says. “But more times than not, the proper herbicide application would be your best choice.”
The Barnes County Weed Board has managed thousands of miles of state and county roads for decades, including thousands of acres of roadside rights-of-way. Herbicide applications have played an integral role in the county’s vegetation management program ever since the state’s weed board was introduced in the 1980s. When asked why chemical methods of control are preferred over physical alternatives like mowing, Windish refers to the long-term results and enhanced efficacy that herbicide applications can provide.
“You’re going to see significantly more control with the proper herbicide versus mowing,” Windish says. “If you mow it, the weeds are going to keep growing back. And if you miss a mowing, they’re just going to repopulate.”
Whereas selective herbicides work to eradicate target plant species completely, mowing can leave the root systems of many plants intact, which often leads to increased weed pressure and the need for additional maintenance over time. For Barnes County’s roadside applications, the goal is not only to protect infrastructures and ensure visibility for vehicles on the road but also to support the development of compatible vegetation in the process.
As noxious weeds encroach roadways, they also invade areas in which desirable plant communities can develop and grow. Applicators can keep invasive plants and noxious weeds from stealing the sunlight and nutrients that low-growing vegetation needs to flourish by controlling target species. This also improves roadway safety for motorists and creates an environment in which native wildlife species can thrive.
To increase safety along roadways and adjacent rights-of-way, the Barnes County Weed Board applies selective herbicide treatments at a rate of 10 gallons of water volume per acre by using two spray rigs holding 400-gallon tanks and a third rig equipped with a 300-gallon tank. Products featured in roadside applications include Tordon® 22K, Freelexx®, Vastlan® and Garlon® 3A herbicides.
While different tank mixes can be used to target some of the area’s most prevalent weeds, which include purple loosestrife and houndstongue, Barnes County often uses a tank mix including Vastlan to control volunteer trees in township ditches. Selective herbicides are also used to provide total vegetation control on less-traveled roads to reduce mowing costs for townships. This helps to free up budget for alternative infrastructure projects like regraveling. For Windish, the increased efficacy of selective herbicides provides application-site flexibility on the land entrusted to the Barnes County Weed Board.
“If I take the weed density down in one area, I can take that budget and rotate it to a different part of the county,” Windish says. “When you hit hard spots effectively, you don’t have to spend as much time or resources in those areas for a couple of years.”
Considering the economic and environmental benefits selective herbicide applications can provide in the field, professionals like Windish have made a commitment to educating businesses and landowners throughout the state who are required to control all species listed under the state’s noxious weed law.
When the Barnes County Weed Board isn’t managing roadsides and adjacent rights-of-way, time and effort is dedicated to ensuring landowners and applicators are controlling incompatible vegetation appropriately and effectively.
Because failure to eliminate species listed in the state’s noxious weed law can lead to citations and subsequent fines, Windish works with landowners to identify weeds and the best strategies for controlling them effectively. Identification booklets are also distributed to the general public to increase awareness of their responsibility to eradicate problematic weeds.
“A lot of people don’t even know what the invasive plants are,” Windish says. “The booklets explain why they’re bad and why we don’t want them around here.”
Herbicide applications can often raise concerns among members of the general public. However, being able to reference the positive impact selective herbicides can have on roadway safety, cost efficiency and the development of native plant communities helps professionals like Windish improve public perception regarding selective herbicide applications.
“The more you educate the public, the better it is,” Windish says. “They get a better perception of what we’re actually doing rather than them thinking we’re the guys that go around killing plants.”
Many landowners struggle with knowing how much chemical to use when managing their own land, so Windish travels to areas throughout the state to ensure the proper amount of herbicides are added to tank mixes and that all equipment is accurately calibrated.
“If you’re adding too much product, you’re wasting it,” Windish says. “When you misuse herbicides, you are going to be in a lot worse shape than if you were to use them properly.”
Another company supporting the use of selective herbicides for optimum weed control is Southwest Ag Inc., a regional supplier of agricultural products and services in western North Dakota. Because oil companies are required to abide by the state’s noxious weed law and associated regulations, Southwest Ag’s customers have relied upon selective herbicides to keep oil fields free of noxious weed species since 2016.
“You can always pick out which sites have been sprayed because the weed pressure just isn’t there,” says Dustin Swanson, sales manager at Southwest Ag. “Those locations are way cleaner where they’ve been sprayed for multiple years.”
Weeds can cover exposed pipelines on oil fields, which can create safety hazards for workers. Moreover, when incompatible plant communities develop, they provide isolated habitats in which unwanted pests like mice, snakes and rabbits can thrive. Site managers would prefer to keep their worksites and pipelines free of pests and safety risks, so optimum weed control is essential.
Some of the most prevalent noxious weeds throughout North Dakota’s oil fields include Canada thistle, leafy spurge and field bindweed. Other troublesome weed species include kochia and Russian thistle. Native plant communities are generally nonexistent throughout the state’s oil fields, and applicators regularly use low-volume back sprayers to apply spot treatments when targeting most weeds. For years, Southwest Ag has recommended the use of a herbicide mix consisting of Spike® 80DF, Opensight® and Vista® XRT herbicides. Today, the company also promotes the use of Cleantraxx® herbicide to create a foundation for bareground control.
“We look at sites that are sprayed and make recommendations on what products to use,” Swanson says. “The weed pressure is always higher on new locations. Whoever was spraying them previously wasn’t using the same products as what we’ve been promoting.”
When asked what applicators have noticed most about Southwest Ag’s recommended mix for targeted weed species, Swanson made quick note of the results.
“Definitely the efficacy,” Swanson says. “Applicators have been picking up more business by word of mouth that their locations are cleaner than others.”
Selective herbicides can significantly enhance nearly any vegetation management program when they are properly used. As results continue to benefit landowners, communities and natural environments throughout a variety of application sites, including roadsides and bareground settings, chemical methods of control continue to solidify their place as an industry standard. To learn more about best practices for your vegetation management program and the products that can help ensure your success in the field, visit VegetationMgmt.com.
™ ® Cleantraxx, Freelexx, Garlon, Opensight, Tordon, Vastlan, Vista and Vistas are trademarks of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer, and their affiliated companies or their respective owners. Tordon® 22K is a Restricted Use Pesticide. Opensight® has no grazing or haying restrictions for any class of livestock, including lactating dairy cows, horses (including lactating mares) and meat animals prior to slaughter. Label precautions apply to forage treated with Opensight and to manure and urine from animals that have consumed treated forage. Consult the label for full details. Cleantraxx®, Freelexx®, Opensight and Vastlan® are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Spike® is a registered trademark of Nutrichem used under license. Spike® 80DF is registered for range and pasture use only in AL, KS, LA, MO, MS, NM, OK and TX. State restrictions on the sale and use of Spike 80DF and Vista® XRT apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details. Always read and follow label directions.