Trials show promise of automated topical herbicide application

An automated vision-guided droplet application system with the potential to reduce herbicide use by 95 per cent should be ready for field trials in 2018, according to AHDB Horticulture.

Image: AHDB Horticulture
Image: AHDB Horticulture

The eyeSpot research project incorporates an automated spot herbicide ejector to point and shoot metered droplets to weed leaves in row crops, based on an innovative imaging system to distinguish weeds from crops.

It aims to minimise drift, spatter and run-off, will also evaluate the dose required to kill weeds at different growth stages, helping reduce chemical use still further.

Labour and energy requirements are also expected to be significantly lower than for existing mechanical weed control methods.

Preliminary field trials to establish proof of concept took place this summer. In these, droplets of glyphosate were applied manually in a crop of savoy cabbages, achieving 92 per cent weed control and significantly higher yields than with the conventionally applied pre-emergence herbicide, pendimethalin.

The rate of herbicide application, of just 83g glyphosate per hectare, was also 94 per cent lower than for the pendimethalin. Yields were "not significantly lower" than in a control hand-weeded trial.

The project's leader, University of Reading associate professor Dr Alistair Murdoch said: "By accurately targeting leaf-specific droplet applications, it is the ultimate in precision agriculture.

"The importance of the successful findings of the project cannot be over-stressed and it is, therefore, particularly important that systemic, broad-spectrum active ingredients such as glyphosate remain available to farmers and growers."

The research is funded by AHDB Horticulture, Douglas Bomford Trust, Edith Mary Gayton Trust Fund and the University of Reading.

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