08/09/2016 19:51 EDT | Updated 08/10/2017 01:12 EDT

Drones being used to find and stamp out noxious weeds in Alberta county

CALGARY — Drone technology is making it easier for an Alberta county to find and stamp out noxious weeds.

Invasive plants are a problem for farmers and ranchers, driving down yields and choking pastures.

“You can go to any ditch site or disturbed areas and find four or five kinds of noxious weeds in the area,” said Ashley Stewart, agriculture service officer for Rocky View County. “They definitely cause a lot of financial hardship for farmers, they spend a lot of money trying to get rid of them.”

Usually, land would have to be inspected in time-consuming and labour-intensive ways, but with drones, the job is much faster and easier.

“If we have a larger piece of land, we can fly out and take an aerial photo and be able to detect those plants and see where exactly they are and how they have spread,” said Stewart.

The drone’s pictures are useful for more than just agriculture. Stewart said he has spotted illegal dumping with the drone, and it can also be used to develop maps.

Any landscape is available to drones, including steep slopes and boggy areas that people would have difficulty navigating. Right now, Stewart uses a standard camera, but hopes to soon replace it with a multi-spectrum camera.

“We will be able to look at infra-red and near infra-red spectrums,” he said. “Every species of plant gives off a different spectrum, so you would actually be able to fly over a piece of land, take that information and separate the different spectrums and identify if you were looking for a certain plant, it will identify it from the air.”

Some of the plants Stewart is looking for include Canada thistle and scentless chamomile, two of the 60 plants that the Alberta government lists as noxious or prohibited.

(CTV Calgary)