According to Steven Fennimore, an extension expert at the University of California, Davis, the increased popularity of robotic weeders for specialized crops is partially due to need. Broccoli, onion, tomatoes, and lettuce are examples of speciality crops. They aren’t mass-produced in the same way that soybeans, wheat and corn are.
Two difficulties necessitate the use of robotic weeders. One issue is a scarcity of herbicides for use in specialized crops. Another factor is that hand-weeding is becoming more costly. Growers have resorted to pay staff to hand-weed enormous fields in the absence of pesticides.
The process of hand weeding is expensive and slow as well, costs about $150 to $300/acer, which is the motivation behind the growers to go towards robotic weeders.
Fennimore Expresses, “I have been using robotic weeders for almost a decade, and the technology is only now beginning to see widespread use. It’s just for financial reasons that you should think about them”.
To create and test the weeders, Fennimore collaborates with different engineers and researchers. To remove weeds without harming crops, the weeders use small blades that get in and out. He claims that, while technology isn’t flawless, it is improving all the time.
The programs are installed in the feeder to identify the pattern and tell exactly which one is soil and which one is plant, but weeders are facing trouble in differentiating between a crop and a weed.
Fennimore said, few companies are working and teaching the machine to distinguish between lettuce weeds and plants. Additionally, he’s collaborating with the university engineers to create a system which will allow the weeders to avoid the agricultural plants by tagging them.
He added, “The current issue is the version 1.0 of the machine, but there is a lot of space for the improvement. Due to inability to distinguish between a crop and a weed, the farmers must be extremely precise while employing them. Because the machine isn’t cleaver yet to tell the difference: therefore, the rows must be cleaner, uniform and straighter. The machines aren’t found of surprises”.
The current price range for the robotic weeders varies from $ 120,000 – $ 175,000. It is a better long-term choice for certain California producers as compared with costly hand-weeding. Others believe it is excessively expensive for a new technology and are waiting for it to improve and become more affordable.
Robotic weeders, according to Fennimore, are the future of weeding in specialized crops. European producers have been utilizing robotic weeders for some time due to greater labour costs and more incentives to plant organically with less pesticides.
Because it is the best choice, Fennimore is concentrating his efforts on physical weed management. Apart from lettuce, he’s also started experimenting with onions and tomatoes. Each crop will necessitate a unique method.
He says, “I trust what distinguishes the robotic weeders from the herbicides is their flexible technology based on electronics which can easily be updated. Our phones and laptops get update which is the indication of adaptable and reliable technology.”
This research was presented by the Fennimore at Annual meeting of American Society of Agronomy in October, Soil Science Society of America, and Crop Science Society of America in Tampa FL.