Five Ways Technology is Changing Weed Management

09:52AM Dec 19, 2018
( Jared Wareham )

Weeds are constantly evolving, and fortunately, so is the technology to fight these pests. Farmers will have new defenses against problem weeds as early as this year, with more options to come as technology is fine-tuned.

Here are five innovative ways farmers and technology providers are helping in the fight against weeds. Some of this technology is available today, while some is a few years down the road. One thing is for sure, weeds are fighting an uphill battle against emerging technologies.

1. Killer robots stop weeds autonomously, even under the crops’ canopy. Researchers hope this research will give farmers access to a team of reliable, proficient and cost-effective robots to help manage weeds.

This project is bringing together scientists from a variety of disciplines including experts in machine learning, weed scientists and environmental ecosystems specialists. One reason is because weeds can look a lot like the crops they’re growing with—especially during seedling stages.

Machine learning helps address this issue. Experts apply principles that allow robots to acclimate to real-word uncertainties and differentiate between weeds and crops. The team has also developed the robot in a way that allows it to traverse variable, and sometimes rough, field conditions.

2. Artificial intelligence is helping farmers with weed and disease identification. BASF created the Xarvio scouting app that allows farmers to snap a picture of a plant to identify weeds or diseases. The company boasts over 90% identification accuracy.

The system was launched in 2017 for the European market and is already used in 90 countries with nearly 60,000 users. With its artificial intelligence platform, as each picture is added to the system, the system gets smarter.

It works by using a remote server that contains more than 150,000 weed and disease images in a massive database for comparison. When you take a picture it quickly compares it to all other images to find a match, which is why adding more pictures increases the accuracy of the app.

3. Texas research starves weeds of nutrients but allows cotton to thrive. Scientists at Texas A&M introduced a trait in cotton that allows the crop to thrive in soil enriched with phosphite that has one less oxygen atom than traditional fertilizers. Because weeds don’t have the same trait they die.

The gene, named ptxD, allows absorption of phosphite and was first isolated by William Metcalf at the University of Illinois. The team in Texas is the first to introduce the gene in cotton. The experiment is currently moving from greenhouse, to field testing.

4. Helicopters bring invasive weed control to pastures. Necessity is the mother of invention—cattle producers are using helicopters to apply herbicides to control invasive weeds and put pastures back into grass production.

The method allows farmers and ranchers to reach acres that tractors can’t. Helicopter herbicide application also saves time and labor. The program targets producers with 40 to 50 acres and grant funding is available for farmers in certain states.

5. Research shows farmers might be able to regain glyphosate efficacy. Researchers from Kansas State University recently discovered the pathway for glyphosate resistance in weeds is one that is unstable and could be decreased.

The research team caught it before becoming permanently resistant. The resistance mechanism isn’t fully integrated back into the plant’s DNA. Because the resistance is unstable, farmers might have a chance to beat it.

What they’re saying is, you can reduce the population of resistant biotypes and if you do it before it’s coded into the plant’s DNA you might stop that form of resistance. Researchers recommend best management practices like rotating herbicides and crops.