'Tumbleweed Eater' Works to Take a Bite Out of the Invasive Plant

Jun 25, 2014

It’s harvest season in El Paso County, but this crop isn’t exactly what one might expect. KRCC's Tucker Hampson reports.

A Skid Steer Loader, which looks kind of like a big Bobcat, pulls tumbleweeds out of a ditch. The tumbleweeds are then chopped up by a converted 1995 John Deere Harvester, dubbed the Tumbleweed Eater, and then shot out into neighboring fields.

"Tumbleweeds are an issue for us every year," says Max Kirschbaum, Operations Manager for the El Paso County Public Service Department. "But this year it was unprecedented. I’ve talked to our guys, some of who have been here 30 years, have never seen the kind of problem that we’ve had in all the time they’ve worked here."

Kirschbaum says the original harvester was not designed for this kind of work, but through a redesign by El Paso County equipment and fleet mechanics, they now have a more efficient method for dealing with the issue.

The Tumbleweed Eater, a modified John Deere Harvester, pulls the tumbleweed in the front, grinds them up and spits them out into a field.
Credit Tucker Hampson / KRCC

But that doesn’t mean the job’s any easier. Drainage Crew Workman Todd Hofmann says debris in the ditches can be hazardous for both the machines and crews. But, says Hofmann, it’s a step in the right direction.

"It’s way faster with this machine than what we’s doing with the shredders and pulling them out with the graters and stuff."

Almost $264,000 has been spent in tumbleweed removal to date, mostly on labor and equipment use. Max Kirshbaum says if it continues to work, the Tumbleweed Eater is a good investment for dealing with the problem in the future.

"Between our purchase price of $46,000 for this 1995 John Deere, and the $40,000 worth of parts and labor that we put into it," says Kirschbaum, "as an $86,000 dollar investment, we see a very, very rapid payback in that investment."

County officials estimate 100 miles of rural ditches still need to be cleared. How well the Tumbleweed Eater works will guide future decisions on modifications and methods.