Technology provides alternative to herbicides, hand-weeding
The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot.
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
Usage Restrictions: Please use with story only.
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.
"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.
Susan Fisk | EurekAlert!
The tips of a plant design its whole shape
09.12.2019 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Interaction with fungus containing N2-fixing endobacteria improves rice nitrogen nutrition
26.11.2019 | American Society of Plant Biologists
Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...
Using a clever technique that causes unruly crystals of iron selenide to snap into alignment, Rice University physicists have drawn a detailed map that reveals...
University of Texas and MIT researchers create virtual UAVs that can predict vehicle health, enable autonomous decision-making
In the not too distant future, we can expect to see our skies filled with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) delivering packages, maybe even people, from location...
With ultracold chemistry, researchers get a first look at exactly what happens during a chemical reaction
The coldest chemical reaction in the known universe took place in what appears to be a chaotic mess of lasers. The appearance deceives: Deep within that...
Abnormal scarring is a serious threat resulting in non-healing chronic wounds or fibrosis. Scars form when fibroblasts, a type of cell of connective tissue, reach wounded skin and deposit plugs of extracellular matrix. Until today, the question about the exact anatomical origin of these fibroblasts has not been answered. In order to find potential ways of influencing the scarring process, the team of Dr. Yuval Rinkevich, Group Leader for Regenerative Biology at the Institute of Lung Biology and Disease at Helmholtz Zentrum München, aimed to finally find an answer. As it was already known that all scars derive from a fibroblast lineage expressing the Engrailed-1 gene - a lineage not only present in skin, but also in fascia - the researchers intentionally tried to understand whether or not fascia might be the origin of fibroblasts.
Fibroblasts kit - ready to heal wounds
03.12.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
10.12.2019 | Architecture and Construction
10.12.2019 | Information Technology
10.12.2019 | Life Sciences