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Back 40 Land Management: Growing like a weed

Weeds can quickly evolve from a minor nuisance into a major scourge if ignored by farmers and ranchers; whereas proper pasture maintenance ultimately maximizes profits through efficient land management.

After earning a rangeland management degree in December 2015 from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, David Cummings founded his company, Back 40 Land Management, in February 2018. He had long-time personal knowledge of pasturelands and the unwanted vegetation that can creep in.

While at CSU, Cummings simultaneously worked for the Fort Collins Conservation District and Big Thompson Conservation District in Berthoud as a conservation field technician, assisting in area land restoration after the areas’ 2012 and 2013 fires and floods.



He founded his fledgling company with inspiration from those tragic events — and thanks to $8,000 he saved up while working as a landscaper. That nest egg purchased a pickup truck, an ATV, and an ATV-mounted sprayer. Back 40 was in business.

David Cummings and Charlotte Leyden aka “licensed professionals” mixing chemicals. Photo courtesy David Cummings

Running a company was nothing new to Cummings. The Fort Collins native recalled his family’s move to a 75-acre hay farm in Eaton when he was 8-years-old. At age 15, he took over the entire haying operation.



Vivid memories of his five Quarter Horses, riding in Cowboy Mounted Shooting competitions, and week-long family pack trips in Colorado’s Flat Top Wilderness Area in White River National Forest near Meeker, and the Bighorns in Wyoming could fill a big photo album of his rural youth.

Maybe his childhood hay farm most familiarized Cummings with weed war challenges. He well-knows from that early experience, as well as his educational/occupational resumes, how unwanted vegetation can produce some might bad scenarios.

KNOW THINE ENEMY

State-of-the-art herbicides that BFLM applies tackle northern Colorado’s prolific noxious plants including Canada thistle, bindweed, and Dalmatian toadflax. Kochia spreads its seeds through the efficient, rolling tumbleweeds it produces.

Then there’s cheatgrass, which is not only a fire hazard but also aggravatingly sticks to socks, and can dangerously lodge in livestock/pets respiratory systems.

Cheatgrass mitigation using UTV sprayer near Devil’s Backbone in Loveland, Colo., on steep terrain. Photo courtesy David Cummings

Cummings noted that not all weeds are created equal, at least on the amounts of fines leveled in the Centennial state.

Class A designation is pretty much a death sentence for ‘bad’ weeds because property owners face severe enforcement measures to remove the offenders immediately upon notice.

Among Class B Noxious Weeds are Canada thistle and leafy spurge. Landowners who receive citations for these problem plants must get rid of them in a designated time frame.

Class C refers to slower spreaders or, ironically, growth that is so widespread that it’s virtually impossible to wipe them out, i.e. Russian olive trees.

Besides farm and ranch issues, Cummings noted that construction kicks up weed seeds when subdivision bulldozers tear up the ground. He advised that very aggressive vegetation in residential neighborhoods will spread back across fence lines if only one homeowner attempts to control a large infestation. Rather, repression needs to be an entire neighborhood effort.

For accurate decisions on herbicides, Cummings accesses National Resource Conservation Service data. Along with this USDA branch’s information, he refers to that from the CSU Extension Service, Larimer County Weed District, and Agfinity (one of his suppliers).

Back 40 Land Management company truck, trailer and UTV. Photo courtesy David Cummings

For example, he recently learned from LCWD that a new cheatgrass mitigation product called Rejuvra should become available in 2021.

BEST PRACTICES

Weed control usually goes hand-in-hand with re-seeding. Cummings outlined some factors his company employs, as well as tips for ranchers/farmers.

• Step One is Site Assessment to determine the best herbicide and fertilizer for a specific property. Some herbicides keep weeds completely at bay. A main consideration is the type of crop/crops planted. Follow-up in two to three years might be required, but should be less extensive each progressive year.

• Mowing and grazing during the proper seasons of the year should supplement long-time weed control measures.

• Use of cover crops and native ecosystems are a key part of Integrated Weed Management.

• BFLM rarely sprays an entire field but rather uses spot and selective spraying.

• Fines can be charged to property owners by counties if chemicals are misapplied (i.e. over spraying, leaching into ground water, etc.)

• To protect desirables on a property, such as a hay crop or pollinator species, while effectively dispatching weeds, always consult a weed management professional who has expertise on local and regional plants. Safety is paramount for crops, livestock and people. Cummings is one such professional, certified by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and licensed in several categories, including rangeland, pastureland, ornamental, turf.

RE-SEEDING

Cummings detailed some procedures necessary to re-seed a pasture.

David Cummings uses a tractor with seeder to overseed a thinning pasture near Wellington, Colo., with dryland grass seed mix. Photo courtesy David Cummings

First, weed control over the course of one to two growing seasons is required to deplete the soil seed bank of weed seeds. Multiple flushes of weeds allowed to grow are killed with an herbicide at just the correct time when the plant is most vulnerable.

The pasture re-seeding interval must be appropriate, based on the chemical used. Otherwise, the herbicide might interfere with rehab efforts.

BFLM makes sure all livestock and pets are removed from a field and kept out even longer than recommendations on the product label. Cummings said he takes extreme cautions to properly/safely contain all chemicals he uses (including when doing his BFLM laundry, which he keeps separate from the rest of his clothes).

EXPANSION

Back 40 Land Management is growing fast… like a weed! Because of expanded demand, Cummings found it necessary to hire an associate in April 2020.

That’s when Charlotte Leyden replied to his Craigslist post seeking a pasture management/land management technician.

“Due to my background, we jived immediately,” said the 23-year-old Montana State University graduate.

Leyden, originally from New Hampshire, grew up showing Quarter Horses and Percherons. In 2018-2019, she worked for a large, regeneratively managed Montana organic ranch that fed in windrows to sequester carbon and nitrogen in the soil.

Because of expanded demand, David Cummings found it necessary to hire an associate in April 2020. That's when Charlotte Leyden replied to his Craigslist post. Photo Courtesy David Cummings

Cummings brought her on-board as a part-time employee in May 2020. Since his company is mostly seasonal, Leyden works full-time in the off months at Centennial Livestock Auction, Fort Collins, in the yards and internet sales.

In her first year with BFLM, Leyden primarily re-seeded dryland pastures and sprayed weeds with a variety of broadleaf chemicals. She mentioned that with BFLM she really enjoys seeing some spectacular private properties throughout Colorado’s Front Range, as the company works from Estes Park to Livermore, Masonville, Greeley, and as far south as Brighton.

BFLM does a lot of business, especially with rural/ranchette subdivisions. Leyden said on some days she sprayed up to seven properties ranging from two- to 10-acres each. One large place, 800-acres, took five days to complete. HOAs sometimes request their entire subdivisions be sprayed, primarily in common areas.

Leyden plans to return to BFLM for the 2021 season, perhaps full-time, but eventually intends to go back to ranching.

She added, “I would like to keep learning about rangeland management and how to make the best rangeland ecosystem in our arid foothills environment.”

CONTACT INFO

Back 40 Land Management can be contacted one of several ways. Visit its website at http://www.back40land.com, on its Facebook page @back40land, or via Instagram as back40landmanagement. Cummings can also be reached by phone at (970) 222-4624.


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