Low-end GPS guidance systems, boomless sprayers, and rope wick applicators may be cost-efficient tools for controlling pasture weeds, says John Byrd, Extension research professor of plant and soil sciences at Mississippi State University.

“Precision agriculture technology has been widely adapted by Mid-South farmers for row crops,” he said for the annual pasture tour of the Starkville/MSU Ag Club. “We’ve been looking at the potential for utilizing this technology for spraying pastures to avoid skips, oversprays, and other problems related to ‘eyeballing’ trips across a pasture.”

Bottom-end GPS units can be purchased for $1,200 or so, Byrd says, and will provide a basic level of accuracy for spraying. Their usefulness is not limited to spraying, he notes; they can also be used for fertilizer applications as well as overseeding forage grasses and legumes.

“If you want a unit that will map your farm, control the sprayer, and have other functions, the technology is available, but it gets to be on the pricey side. I can’t justify it for my work, and I expect a lot of farmers can’t either.”

An ATV with a boomless sprayer, equipped with Hy-Pro, Boom Buster, Boominator, or TeeJet BoomJet Flat spray tips, and a GPS system can be useful for pasture spraying, he says.

“These tips are available to produce various application widths and volumes and seem to produce spray patterns that result in excellent weed control.

“Foxtail is our No. 1 weed control problem in pastures,” Byrd says. “None of the products we’ve evaluated has given consistent control at a level I’d recommend for cattle producers. The best we’ve done is 60 percent control, and the cost is $23 for a single shot, with two shots needed for that level of control. I don’t think many cattle producers can justify that expense, although producers who grow hay for the horse hay market probably can justify the cost.”

In looking at ways to more economically suppress seedhead production of foxtail and maintain forage that cows will graze, he says, “We looked at applying a 33 percent Roundup solution with a rope wick applicator.

“This is one of the cheapest options right now — you can treat a lot of acres for very little money.”

Ironweed is another difficult weed to control in pastures, particularly clovers, said Tony Thompson, retired NRCS district conservationist and cattleman.

“Spraying for weeds can also kill clover,” he notes, “and with a rope wick applicator, we can apply herbicide to the taller weeds without affecting the clover. These applicators can be useful in controlling weeds while maintaining a stand of clover.”

Thompson said he has used a rope wick applicator made by Rosco at Lyon, Miss., and has found it very effective for pasture weed control. The company says its applicators used one-third of the usual amount of chemical per application, offer selective weed control with no overspray, and are environmentally safe.

Robert Oakley, district inspector for the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry at Starkville, cautioned that producers who transport baled hay into states that don’t have established populations of fire ants will need to have that hay inspected and certified as fire ant-free before it will be allowed into those states.

“Because of the Midwest drought, a lot of hay is being moved into those states — particularly Missouri and northern Arkansas,” he says. “The USDA has a fire ant quarantine in place that restricts movement of baled hay into areas that don’t have established fire ant populations.”

Prior to being inspected, Mississippi hay must be removed from direct contact with the soil — preferably within 24 hours of baling — and placed on concrete, pallets, tires, or plastic. It should be separated and stacked by truckloads, and a certificate of inspection is required for each truckload.

“It’s strongly recommended,” Oakley says, “that the area surrounding the storage site be treated for fire ants to discourage them from moving into the hay.”

Anyone anticipating shipping baled hay to these quarantine areas should contact the Bureau of Plant Industry in advance of shipment for detailed instructions, he says. Otherwise, the hay will be denied entry into those areas.