Farmers take flight to tackle invasive alien vegetation in Karoo

Karoo farmer Morne Jonker is using drone technology to curb invasive alien plants
FLYING PESTICIDE: Karoo farmer Morne Jonker is using drone technology to curb invasive alien plants
Image: Supplied

Karoo farmers are making use of drone technology to curb invasive alien plants and increase water supply.

Cobus Meiring of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) said over the past four decades, the mountain tops, southern and northern slopes  of the Outeniqua Mountains had fallen prey to the aggressive spread of invasive alien plants, in particular wattle and pine trees.

In a statement on Friday, the SCLI said as a direct result of the invasive alien trees, staggering volumes of water from mountain catchments, feeder streams, wetlands, fountains and underground water resources had been lost.

“Not only the farmers are feeling the effect of reduced water sources available to them to farm sustainably.

“Downstream water users in the Kammanassie and Olifants River systems, as well as rivers supplying towns such as Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp, have either run dry  or are drastically underperforming.”

Meiring said farmers simply did  not have the resources to eradicate and curb the spread of the alien species.

“However, the 2018 Outeniqua wildfire disaster that destroyed close to 100,000ha of vegetation  provided landowners along the mountains a small window of opportunity to make inroads into the control of invasive alien plants on a large scale.”

Kammanassie farmer, Morné Jonker, of the farm Ezeljacht, said the best chance of success in addressing invasive alien plants on a large scale was to prevent regrowth after such a fire.

He said almost 500ha of mostly mountain and riverine land in their area was now experiencing regrowth, with wattle and pine carpeting the landscape.

Jonker estimated that more than 90% of the area was invaded by severe wattle regrowth.

He said the best chance of preventing alien trees from reaching maturity was by the application of a suitable herbicide by means of an aerial spray, making use of drone technology.

Jonker said the repeated application of herbicide required could be costly and labourous.

“The availability of specialised drone technology, adapted for carrying sufficient payload of herbicide to spray over dense stands of wattle along severely affected areas is our saving grace.

“Not only is drone technology extremely affordable to us, given the scale of the problem and the difficulty of the terrain, but it is extremely effective and accurate in application,” he said.

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