Pulse School: New green-on-green technology singles out and sprays weeds in-crop

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An emerging technology yet to be released in Canada looks to up the ante on spraying herbicides by using an algorithm that is able to identify and spot-spray just the weeds in a growing crop.

On this episode of the Pulse School, we speak with Tom Wolf, owner of Agrimetrix Research & Training, about the new green-on-green spraying technology, and why it may be something that could be beneficial on the farm.

You may already be asking yourself, is this the same — or at least a close relative of — green-on-brown technology? The answer, yes… and no. Green-on-brown technology is quite literally as the name would suggest. It uses specialized technology to identify ‘green things’ on a brown surface, ie. soil. After the distinction is made, it signals the sprayer to spray just the green stuff on the ground, ie. weeds, saving farmers product and money. Through this green-on-brown technology, studies have shown a savings of pesticide products between 50 and 70 per cent, which, given today’s input prices, can add up to quite a lot of savings in costs alone (there’s environmental and labour savings, too).

Green-on-brown technology makes a lot of sense for farmers who chem-fallow, however, those farmers can be few and far between. Even though this technology has been around for a couple decades now, with more of a resurgence in the last five years, according to Wolf,  it hasn’t been used by many in their annual farming practices.

Green-on-green technology looks to build upon what green-on-brown has somewhat established. Although the technologies are similar in the fact that they both seek out certain plants and look to differentiate between wanted and unwanted (weeds/soil vs. weeds/crop)  — the method of which they do this dramatically different.

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Green-on-brown detects either the colour green or chlorophyl within the plant in order to pinpoint it so the sprayer can spray that plant/weed directly. Green-on-green is much different beast as it uses algorithms to visually detect what is a weed and what is the crop plant.

“So imagine being able to spray weeds that occur in patches, just the patches, and having that capability. The big problem with getting sort of precision into the spraying operation is that the maps we create are difficult to create because you have to walk a whole field to find out where the weeds are. And also, the maps don’t last very long. Because there’s a seasonality and a different emergence pattern every year. Green on green has solved that problem by generating the map instantaneously,” explains Wolf.

Of course, with many new options becoming available for farmers, for many it comes down to price. Wolf shares that they have not yet released a dollar figure for the technology but says in Australia, the units go for approximately $137,000 in Canadian funds.

A bonus of the technology is that farmers are able to use it on the equipment they are currently running. Although some farm equipment manufacturers are starting to build specific products to compliment the technology, it is able to be used with sprayers in the field now.

Wolf also says that the technology is very promising, not only for farmers’ bank accounts but for the optics and perception of farming in general.

“I think it has a natural benefit for not just the bottom line of farming and the planning for resistance but also the image of farming. It has a natural fit because it’s very clear to anyone who watches this that by spot spraying the weeds only. We are being better stewards. We’re not broadcasting, we’re not drenching the landscaping pesticides, we’re strategically and surgically applying pesticides only where they’re needed. And I think that’s a very good messaging for for farming in general.”

For more Pulse School episodes, click here.

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