John Deere's latest advances in sprayer technology are viewed as a journey by company officials. That journey continued last fall when it invited a group of ag media to a Georgia cotton field for an advanced look of its latest introduction: See & Spray Ultimate. (Information on the sprayer was embargoed until now.)
It's the next generation of the company's targeted spraying technology, first introduced last year as See & Spray Select. That model detected color differentiation in the field and was suited for small-grains farmers managing weeds on fallow acres. As the sprayer moved through the field, boom-mounted cameras detected the green plants (weeds) and triggered a herbicide application to those plants only.
See & Spray Ultimate provides "green on green" in-season targeted spraying for fields planted to corn, cotton and soybeans in 30-inch or wider rows, as well as broadcast spraying capabilities. The factory-installed system will be available for model year 2023 John Deere 410R, 412R and 612R sprayers. Limited quantities will be offered for ordering later this year. Pricing will be released later this year.
Spraying only weeds in a growing crop without broadcasting herbicides on the entire field has long been the holy grail for farmers. The immediate benefits are obvious:
-- Spray more acres per load.
-- Reduce the environmental footprint.
-- Lower herbicide costs.
Deere officials are just as excited about the possibilities the See & Spray Ultimate offers.
Marcio Neutzling, who leads the spraying product management team, says, "See & Spray is one of the most rewarding product evolutions we've had in recent history. It's the first one in a journey in which we will bring more products, leveraging AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning technology."
HOW IT WORKS
Behind that evolution is targeted spray technology developed by Blue River Technology. Deere acquired the California-based intelligent machinery company in 2017. The platform deploys multiple technologies -- computer vision, machine learning and deep learning, on-board processing and more -- to enable the sprayer to see and act.
See & Spray Ultimate uses 36 cameras mounted every 3.28 feet across the 120-foot carbon-fiber truss-style boom. The cameras are networked together, scanning more than 2,100 square feet per second and capturing about 40 images per camera in a blink of an eye as the sprayer moves through the field, explains Erik Ehn, director of product development at Blue River. The brains of the system are 10 CPUs mounted on the boom, generating nearly four gigabytes of data per second. Inside the computer processing units, deep learning models are applied to the plant images and detection is made -- crop-weed-weed-crop-crop, for example. Once a weed is located and identified, a command is sent to the proper nozzle to turn on or off as the sprayer moves through the field up to 12 miles per hour.
The See & Spray Ultimate solution can "reduce non-residual herbicide use by more than two-thirds and maintain a hit rate comparable to traditional spraying," points out Franklin Peitz, marketing manager for John Deere.
Another key feature of See & Spray Ultimate is the split tank and two independent plumbing systems. The 1,200-gallon option consists of a 450-gallon tank for targeted spraying and a 750-gallon tank for broadcast spraying. The 1,000-gallon option is split into a 350- and 650-gallon tank for targeted and broadcast spraying, respectively.
BETTER WEED MANAGEMENT
University of Arkansas weed scientist Jason Norsworthy says these features provide a grower greater flexibility in a weed control program. For example, you could choose to apply a residual broadcast application and non-residual targeted application in a pre-emergence pass or targeted spray only as a clean-up pass. Additional crop inputs such as fungicides and liquid fertilizer can also be added in the spray pass.
Norsworthy points out the system can help growers manage other potential problems associated with herbicide application.
"Antagonism can be a big issue when you mix certain herbicides. By being able to split these herbicides (in separate tanks), we're going to be able to maintain a high level of efficacy and minimize potential damage to crops," says Norsworthy, who has tested a prototype of the See & Spray sprayer. "In addition, keeping certain spray solutions apart, I'm extremely confident that we're going to do a better job minimizing volatilization to keep these products on target."
But he cautions the potential for the See & Spray technology to lower chemical costs is going to be a function of the soil seed bank. "We're not likely going to pull out the residual herbicides in this system. They are still going to have tremendous value. The grower who has done a good job of managing those soil seed banks is the one who is going to see the most value associated with this technology. They're going to have a tremendous reduction in the use of postemergence herbicides."
DATA TO MAKE DECISIONS
The See & Spray Ultimate is more than just about targeted spraying of herbicides. As it makes a pass through the field, it generates two maps to provide insights growers can use to make better weed management decisions.
One is the "as applied" map for targeted spraying that shows the percentage of the field herbicide is applied on each pass. The second is the weed pressure map that displays the location of weeds in a field. "These maps help the farmer have that conversation with his weed control adviser," explains Ryan Stien, product manager See & Spray for Deere. "How do you want to plan for perhaps another pass this season to clean up escapes, or do I look at changing my program for next season?"
From a weed resistance management standpoint, Norsworthy sees tremendous value in the two maps. "While at this point the See & Spray system can't identify the weed species, the mapping capabilities isolate areas in a field where we have certain weeds or group of weeds. That's generally a good indication we probably have failure of a herbicide or some other issue in that area of the field that we need to address. Or we may be seeing the onset of resistance."
The John Deere MY23 sprayers come factory equipped with JDLink connectivity, plus a new integrated StarFire 7000 GPS receiver and Generation 4 CommandCenter display. The receiver brings to market a new type of RTK signal, SF-RTK that relies solely on satellite communications. Maps produced after each spray pass are available in the John Deere Operations Center.
"See & Spray Ultimate is all about giving farmers more information, more insights to provide that return on investment to maximize efficiencies and improve profitability for the farmer," explains Kaylene Ballesteros, Deere product market manager.
Officials say there's more to come. "This is the first iteration of the See & Spray Ultimate technology," notes Stien. "It's a platform really for the future for implementing artificial intelligence and machine deep learning." And to jumpstart the next step in Deere's journey.
Gregg Hillyer can be reached at Gregg.Hillyer@dtn.com
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