July 17th, 2024

County going high-tech in search of invasive weed

By Tim Kalinowski on July 19, 2017.

Leafy spurge is a major invasive species throughout Alberta, but is particularly hard to get at on river banks. The Cypress County Agricultural Services Board is undertaking a new trial program to see if major infestations like this could be seen using satellite and drone technology to make locating them on the South Saskatchewan River easier.


Cypress County will be working with researchers from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry to experiment with how to use satellite imagery and drone technology to pinpoint invasive weeds along the South Saskatchewan River.

According to county agricultural supervisor Jason Storch, the cutting-edge research project has such huge potential the county jumped at the chance to participate.

“The river has presented a bit of a challenge for us when it comes to trying to figure out where all of the weeds are, and what problems we may be facing, because it’s a difficult terrain access,” he says. “If this were to work out, we would be using the satellite imagery to determine exactly where the weeds are.”

Storch says the project will be pushing current limits of what satellite identification of weeds can do.

“If you are getting imagery from that far away it’s not going to be great resolution,” says Storch. “That’s why for right now we are going to focus on the weed leafy spurge, because we are fairly confident it does exist in large infestations along the river. If we see a large, yellow blob of flowers starting to form on the side of the river on the satellite, we will have to go out there and look to see if we can reliably determine whether or not it is spurge we are looking at, or something else.”

The county and AAF are setting up a crosscheck of the technology by pre-marking some patches of leafy spurge with GPS to test the satellite’s capability, and will be following up with any “positive” findings from the satellite with visual confirmation. The county is also considering using this opportunity to test the limitations of drone camera technology, adding it to the experiment as another crosscheck on the satellite imagery.

“So we will have different layers to cross check; we will have the GPS reading of our visual weed inspection data, a layer of satellite imagery and an aerial layer to see if we can do some comparisons to determine what we can actually see from the satellite imagery,” explains Storch.

Storch foresees a future where all three elements — satellite, drone and visual inspection — work together as part of the county’s total weed management strategy.

“We are seeing if we can utilize the technology to do better, to cover more ground, or save the taxpayers more money,” says Storch.

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