The use of herbicides is reduced by the advanced weeding tools

Herbicide is being used to treat weeds

Even though no one enjoys weeding, new technology is enabling farmers worldwide to manage weeds in a more effective and environmentally friendly manner.

John Deere, a leading manufacturer of agricultural equipment in the US, claims that its new tractor-pulled weed sprayer can cut herbicide use by two thirds.

The See and Spray Ultimate system has two long arms, or "booms," that stick out either side of the tractor and are covered in spraying nozzles on the underside. This gives it the appearance of a standard field sprayer.

The 36 cameras on this sprayer make it significantly more high-tech. These continuously scan the plants in front of them, instantly distinguishing between crops and weeds.

The connected sprinklers are then directed by a software system using artificial intelligence (AI) to only spray herbicide onto the specific weeds as opposed to soaking the entire field.

According to Ms. Kovar, vice president of Production and Precision Agriculture Production Systems at John Deere, "Our system is capturing 1.2 billion pixels per second, so it is seeing and processing a lot.".

A John Deere database contains more than 300,000 images that the software can use to identify weeds.

Currently, the system only supports corn, soybeans, and cotton, and it is only accessible in the US.

Similar smart-weeding technologies have been developed by a number of rival companies, big and small, for farmers around the world. These include the Smart Spraying Solution camera-scanning weeder from Bosch BASF Smart Farming in Germany.

Greeneye's smart weeding system
To target specific weeds, a variety of farm weeding equipment uses cameras and computerized systems.

The competition between weeds and crops for space, nutrients, and water is the biggest challenge in farming, according to Nadav Bocher, CEO and co-founder of Israeli company Greeneye Technology, another producer of AI-driven precision weeding systems.

His remarks support a 2021 study that estimated the annual economic costs of weeds on a single crop, winter wheat in the US and Canada, could reach $2 point 2 billion (£1 point 8 billion).

"It's difficult to imagine what kind of catastrophic damage farming has done in the past decades [due to excessive use of herbicide]," says Mr. Bocher, who asserts that Greeneye's system can lower usage levels by 80%.

"With such a high level of soil pollution being produced without cause, this affects us as consumers and damages the entire ecosystem. ".

A series called "New Tech Economy" examines how technological innovation is going to influence the new, emerging economic landscape.

A large farm could save up to $120,000 annually thanks to lower herbicide costs and higher crop yields, according to Mr. Bocher, even though such high-tech weeding systems are pricey—Greeneye's costs about $250,000.

Daniel McCann, the CEO of a company that is also incorporating AI technology into a spraying solution for farmers, compares the evolution of farming to moving from an ox to a tractor. In this instance, however, there is a twist: his business, Precision AI, uses drones to fly over fields in the US Midwest and target weeds.

Precision AI, a Canadian company, has more than two billion images in their database and is based in Regina, Saskatchewan. According to Mr. McCann, the reason for the enormous number is that "the same crop can look very different if it was planted in, say, sandier soil compared to soil that gets lots of rain and sun.".

Bosch BASF Smart Farming's Smart Spraying Solution
John Deere's technology and Bosch BASF Smart Farming's operate similarly.

According to Mr. McCann, the precision spraying drones can provide peace of mind as they fly about 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground. "We now live in a world where consumers are becoming more conscious of what is in their food and demanding less chemicals on their fruits, vegetables, and other products. ".

Farmers still have an uphill battle against weeds, however sophisticated the spraying technique may be. According to Michael Gore, a professor in Cornell University's SIPS Plant Breeding and Genetics Section, "some weeds evolve to look more like the crop and they can be harder to find.".

"In the end, biology frequently prevails, but I appreciate how businesses are releasing these continually improving tools. ".

Some experts believe that governments should provide financial assistance to farmers so they can afford to purchase these new weeding technologies given their high cost.

Prof. Mihalis Kritikos, policy analyst at the European Parliament and specialist in the moral and legal implications of new and emerging technologies, asserts that "substantive financial subsidies are needed" to assist farmers in overcoming the initial lack of cost-effectiveness of digital technologies.

One weeding innovation completely avoids the use of herbicide sprays and instead uses potent thermal lasers to zap weeds after they have been detected by AI-enabled cameras.

The LaserWeeder was created by Carbon Robotics, a Seattle-based company, and it can allegedly remove up to 100,000 weeds per hour when being pulled by a tractor.

Carbon Robotics' LaserWeeder
The LaserWeeder uses a laser to burn away weeds, as the name would imply.

According to Paul Mikesell, CEO of Carbon Robotics, the lasers instantly eliminate weeds, and the burned residue is incorporated back into the soil.

The system has so far been applied to potato, onion, and garlic fields in US states like California, Washington, and Idaho.

According to Mr. Mikesell, more units are currently being produced for the US and Canadian markets after the initial units sold out upon release last year. Europe expansion is reportedly still in the works.

Even when the targeting is as precise as possible, farmers can avoid the dreaded "spray drift" that can occur with herbicide spraying by killing weeds with lasers. According to Mr. Mikesell, anything you spray outside will inevitably drift in some way.

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