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Farm and Ranch Days presentation looks at planning for the future while utilizing drone data

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Fremont County’s 40th Annual Farm and Ranch Days took place Feb. 7-8 at the county fairgrounds in Riverton, featuring more than 20 educational sessions and two keynote speakers. 

One of the educational presentations featured Fremont County Weed and Pest (FCWP) Assistant Supervisor Bob Shellard of Lander and FCWP Drone and Geographic Information System Specialist Brian Greeves, who discussed drones and data.

Utilizing drones to combat noxious weeds

Greeves, a drone pilot for FCWP, discussed the legalities of flying a drone for the purpose of spraying weeds in Wyoming.

The FCWP drone, an octocopter named Helio, is insured and registered with the FFA and the state so it can be utilized for spraying chemicals throughout Wyoming. 

“In order to fly a spray drone, an individual must have a Federal Part 107 Drone Pilot’s License issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),” Greeves stated. “An individual must also have an FAA Part 137, which is a Federal Aerial Applicator’s License for spraying chemical from a drone.”

He continued, “I also have a Section 44807, a heavy drone exemption, since the FCWP drone weighs more than 55 pounds, which has to be updated every year.”

Helio weighs approximately 60 pounds and has a nine-gallon capacity, but it is only loaded with five gallons, as this is what the FCWP uses per acre.

“When fully loaded, it brings the drones total weight to about 155 pounds, and I can spray approximately 12 acres per hour at five gallons an acre going nine miles an hour, which is the optimal speed I have found,” he added. “I fly the drone about 15 feet off of the ground, and it is equipped with obstacle avoidance radar, so I don’t have to start and stop the drone while spraying.”

The drone can be directed by a computer program, formulating the swath paths which can be used year after year.

“Our drone is optimal for flatter terrain, because it has front facing radar,” Greeves commented. “But, it can do some hills, I just have to plan the spray job accordingly.”

Last year, the FCWP sprayed about 600 acres using the drone and plans to increase the number of acres in 2024.

Moving towards the future

During the second half of the presentation, Shellard discussed all of the options the FCWP utilizes to manage invasive weeds.

FCWP takes multiple approaches to eradicating noxious weeds. The agency implements chemical control using herbicides, biological control using plant pests and cultural practices as in tillage or mowing. 

Shellard continued, “We have a tremendous amount of land to cover while searching for and controlling invasive weeds, but we are utilizing global positioning systems (GPS) data to gather and chart information on where, what and how we are managing these areas.”

Being able to track data year after year of where weeds were or were not and when and if it had been treated is crucial for future planning.

“We can track all of this for one year or the next, and weʼve been doing so since about 1986,” he noted. “Using GPS systems and historical data alleviates mistakes and allows us to open the door to surveying new land because we have saved time navigating the actual problem.” 

Shellard compared weed control to wildfires. 

“We’re trying to find the spot fires first, take care of those, and if there’s time and money left, then we go in and knock down the flames and the bigger fire, because the bigger fire isn’t going to be put out, we have to manage it from spreading,” he said.

 “For established noxious weed infested areas, utilization of multiple control strategies generally produces a desirable result,” Shellard mentioned. “But, some weeds are definitely easier to control compared to others. I think all plants can be eradicated if we catch them, but I don’t like using the word eradication because it can be an impossible goal.”

He concluded by noting one of the biggest hurdles the program faces is the summer season is never long enough, so it’s important for landowners to play a proactive role in the management of invasive and obnoxious weeds on their land.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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