Sam Sparks farms 10,000 irrigated acres under the SRS Farms moniker at Mercedes, Texas, in the center of the Rio Grande Valley. The third-generation grower produces cotton, grain sorghum, soybeans, sesame and sugarcane and has, of late, been previewing John Deere's new See & Spray technology. He offers that he is more impressed with the technology than he thought he might be at first.
"I was a little nervous that the camera system wouldn't pick up on the weeds in my fields. But we were blown away," he said. "Even with crops in the field, the cameras were able to pick up on weeds as small as a blade of grass."
The system also has picked up on savings in cost of production, Sparks said. "Take out the notebook. Less herbicide. Labor. Diesel. Maintenance. Wear and tear on equipment. It all added up," Sparks said.
Deere's latest iteration of its sprayer technology, See & Spray Ultimate, mounts 36 cameras across a 120-foot carbon-fiber truss-style boom. The cameras, wired into 10 processors, scan for weeds among growing crops at up to 2,100 square feet per second (12 miles per hour). In this first year of limited production, See & Spray Ultimate brings targeted spraying to corn, cotton and soybeans in 30-inch or wider rows, as well as broadcast spraying by way of two tanks. Deere said this sprayer can reduce non-residual herbicide use by more than two-thirds and maintain a hit rate comparable to traditional spraying. Its dual tank options include 1,000- or 1,200-gallon total capacity. The factory-installed system is available for model year 2023 John Deere 410R, 412R and 612R sprayers.
DTN/Progressive Farmer caught up with Sparks at a John Deere cotton technology event last week at enormous, 825,000-acre King Ranch, not far from Corpus Christi, Texas. Sparks is one of Deere's farmer-cooperators. He said See & Spray has allowed him to refine some of his weed management practices. For example, he pointed to the practice of spraying a postemergent or a pre-emergent herbicide behind the planter.
"Now, we are able to see if we have a flush of weeds and not make blanket applications," Sparks said. "This machine plays directly into us being good stewards of the land. With a See & Spray machine, we're not going to miss weeds or let them grow and develop and flower and (produce) seed. It's very important for us to stay on top of these weeds as they come about and present themselves to us."
Sunflowers are a prolific producer of weed seed in southern Texas, to which Sparks pays close attention. "I was raised to worry about any sunflower plant growing in the field," Sparks said. "If that sunflower blooms, it will produce 200 seeds that fall onto the soil that grow, if not the next year, then the following year. Now we're able to go out, and as soon as they come up, we're out there targeting that (weed) well before it flowers."
Sparks believes See & Spray is an important tool in battling resistance. It's tempting for producers, especially large-acreage producers, to apply expensive herbicides at a rate toward the lower end of the label, Sparks said. For example, he is growing 3,000 acres of cotton. If a herbicide label tells him to spray between 14 and 24 ounces, "Maybe I'm going to go with that 14-ounce rate because I've got to cover 3,000 acres, and that's going to cost money," he said. But that's savings at potentially the cost of resistance. With See & Spray's ability to target weeds -- distinguish between weeds and crop -- growers are more likely to use the higher allowable rate "to kill that weed and not (create) a resistance problem."
Dan Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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