Jan. 10, 2018

The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot.

The growing popularity of robotic weeders for specialty crops has grown partly out of necessity, says Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis. Specialty crops are vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and onions. They are not mass-produced like corn, soybeans, and wheat.

The need for robotic weeders stems from two issues. One is a lack of herbicides available for use in specialty crops. Another is the fact that hand-weeding has become more and more expensive. Without pesticides, growers have had to hire people to hand-weed vast fields.

Hand-weeding is slow and increasingly expensive: it can cost $150-$300 per acre. That motivates some growers to look to robotic weeders.

“I’ve been working with robotic weeders for about 10 years now, and the technology is really just starting to come into commercial use,” Fennimore says. “It’s really an economic incentive to consider them.”

Fennimore works with university scientists and companies to engineer and test the weeders. The weeders utilize tiny blades that pop in and out to uproot weeds without damaging crops. He says that although the technology isn’t perfect, it’s getting better and better. 

The weeders are programmed to recognize a pattern and can tell the difference between a plant and the soil. However, they currently have trouble telling the difference between a weed and a crop.

That said, Fennimore explains how some companies are training the machines to tell a lettuce plant from a weed. He’s also working with university engineers on a system to tag the crop plant so the weeders will avoid it.

“The problem with the machines right now is that they are version 1.0, and there’s tremendous room for improvement,” he says. “The inability to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a crop requires the grower to be very exact when using them. The rows have to be a little straighter, cleaner, and more consistent because the machines aren’t that sophisticated yet. The robots don’t like surprises.”

The robotic weeders currently on the market cost between $120,000 and $175,000. For some California growers, it is a better long-term option than expensive hand-weeding. Others think it’s a lot of money for a new technology, and are waiting for it to get better and cheaper.

Fennimore believes robotic weeders are the future of weeding in specialty crops. Because of higher labor costs and more incentives to grow organically with fewer pesticides, European growers have been using robotic weeders for some time.

Fennimore is focusing his work on physical control of weeds because it offers the best option. He’s also started working in crops besides lettuce, such as tomatoes and onions. He adds that each crop will require a different system.

Photo: This robotic weeder is operating in a field near Santa Maria, CA in June 2015. The field is full of a specialty crop. (credit: Steven Fennimore)

Photo: The robotic weeder goes between the crop rows. The rows must be very straight and precise for the weeder to properly do its job. Photo credit Steven Fennimore.

“I believe what makes the robotic weeders better than herbicides is that this electronic-based technology is very flexible and can be updated easily,” he says. “We all update our phones and computers constantly, which is a sign of a robust and flexible technology.”

Fennimore presented his research at the October Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America in Tampa, FL.

Source: The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) 

Comments

No comments to display.

Related posts

EU's Call for Proposals: An empowering, inclusive Next Generation Internet

The objective is to support actions on smarter, open, trusted and personalised learning solutions to optimise digital learning and to allow learners to engage and interact with content and with peers.
Application Deadline in 5 months

Singapore to establish Additive Manufacturing Facility and Applications in Maritime Sector

The facility’s location also leverages PSA’s parts supplier base and facility operations to support just-in-time inventory. This move towards digitised inventories reduces the need to hold excess inventory, which lowers storage costs, while shortening turnaround time from weeks to days due to improved availability of spare parts. In the long run, PSA will expand the scope of these services to the wider maritime industry, including ship owners, to help build its business adjacencies.

EU's Call for Proposals: The AQUAEXCEL2020 twelfth call for access

The facilities available cover the entire range of production systems (cage, pond, recirculation, flowthrough, hatchery and disease challenge); environments (freshwater, marine, cold, temperate and warm water); scales (small, medium and industrial scale); fish species (salmonids, cold and warm water marine fish, freshwater fish and artemia); and fields of expertise (nutrition, physiology, health & welfare, genetics, engineering, monitoring & management technologies).
Application Deadline in a month

Environment and Big Data: Role in Smart Cities of India

This study identifies six environmental factors, which should be integrated in the development of smart cities. These environmental factors include indicators of landscape and geography, climate, atmospheric pollution, water resources, energy resources, and urban green space as a major component of the environment.

Corteva Agriscience and IRRI Ink Partnership to Develop Advanced Rice Technologies and Programs

The partnership seeks to improve the genetic outcomes of breeding programs, encourage sustainable rice cultivation, and develop new rice varieties which deliver higher yields and are more resilient against biotic and abiotic stresses.

Call for Applications: Communication projects which mitigate anthropogenic climate change

The Minor Foundation for Major Challenges (MFMC) is inviting applications from all over the world to fund communication projects which mitigate anthropogenic climate change.
Application Deadline in a month

EU's Call for Proposals: Digital technologies for improved performance in cognitive production plants

Proposals need to develop new technologies to realise cognitive production plants, with improved efficiency and sustainability, by use of smart and networked sensor technologies, intelligent handling and online evaluation of various forms of data streams as well as new methods for self-organizing processes and process chains.
Application Deadline in 4 months

Study reveals best use of wildflowers to benefit crops on farms

For the first time, a Cornell University study of strawberry crops on New York farms tested this theory and found that wildflower strips on farms added pollinators when the farm lay within a "Goldilocks zone," where 25 to 55 percent of the surrounding area contained natural lands.

EU's Call for Proposals: Reinforcing the EU agricultural knowledge base

Activities shall analyse and compare the approaches taken on their performance and impact for farmers/foresters as well as effectivity of the communication and information channels used for dissemination in countries and regions.
Application Deadline in 3 months

The Bali Fintech Agenda: A Blueprint for Successfully Harnessing Fintech’s Opportunities

In response to the Bali Fintech Agenda, the World Bank will focus on using fintech to deepen financial markets, enhance responsible access to financial services, and improve cross-border payments and remittance transfer systems.