Smart Sprayer Technology

Smarter Sprayers

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
(Provided by Greeneye Technology)

Technology has been advancing across sprayer systems to drastically reduce applications (or allow for the use of more targeted, sophisticated chemistries) of residual and nonresidual herbicides by way of boom-mounted cameras and sensors.

These are systems that offer "green on brown" solutions, such as for fallow ground spot-spraying, or the newest "green on green" technologies, which use onboarded, sophisticated plant libraries for on-the-go weed-control solutions for row crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton.

The product-development efforts by main line equipment manufacturers and tech startups target reductions in herbicide applications above 70% with high percentages of weeds identified and successfully treated. The research is said to benefit farm managers by reducing herbicide costs. True enough.

There is also high interest in developing these systems by multinational herbicide suppliers -- among them Syngenta, BASF and Bayer. Their incentives include the ability to create potent herbicides with low-use profiles and a need to meet an ever-growing list of government regulations in the U.S. and around the world.

Here are four systems using green or weed-recognition technology -- and in the case of one, a magnetic system -- to reduce drift and increase product-to-plant adhesion that results in significant herbicide cost savings.

GREENEYE TECHNOLOGY: GREENEYE

Greeneye Technology announced last fall the commercial launch of its unique AI-enabled (artificial intelligence) precision-spraying technology. The company claims the in-field visioning system significantly reduces chemical usage in agriculture and increases productivity and profitability for farmers.

Greeneye is a dual-spraying product with two lines of nozzles enabling farmers to apply residual herbicides on a broadcast basis while applying nonresidual herbicides precisely on weeds. Utilizing Greeneye's proprietary data sets and algorithms, the system calculates the amount of herbicide required and sprays it directly onto the weeds, leaving nearby crops unaffected.

"Once [the cameras] see a weed, they send an electric pulse to the relevant nozzle to spray precisely just what they identified in the field," says Nadav Bocher, CEO, Greeneye Technology. "Everything works in real time."

Greeneye is testing its technology with U.S. corn and soybean farmers, and plans are for an early-2022 rollout in North America. The company says its early-adopter program in North America was oversubscribed within days of its announcement, and the company already has a waiting list of customers for 2023.

-- Real-Time Detection

"In many cases, weed infestations are 5 or 10% of a field," Bocher says. "And yet, we go and spray the entire field. [Greeneye] is helping farmers transition away from a wasteful practice to a very precise spraying."

Cameras mounted directly onto sprayers capture images at a rate of 40 frames per second, enabling rapid detection and classification of weeds down to the species level, he continues.

Greeneye's data sets and algorithms enable the technology to detect weeds in real time. As beneficial, perhaps more, is Greeneye's ability to capture a wide range of data from the field, also in real time.

"The cameras collect high-resolution images from the entire field. We can offer multiple insights to farmers, not just about weeds but multiple other issues in the field" down to the plant level, he says. Greeneye's next-generation technology will be capable of applying fungicides and micronutrients.

Backed by Syngenta and other investors including AGCO, Israeli-based Greeneye Technology proprietary precision-spraying technology has been proven to cut herbicide use by 78%, the company says.

Bocher says Greeneye does more than reduce spray volume. "It's about improving weed-control efficacies. If farmers have the ability to precisely spray herbicides only where it's needed, they can use much more effective and [gain the option for using] sophisticated chemistry that has not been really affordable."

-- Mount to Any Sprayer

The Greeneye product is an aftermarket system, entirely agnostic to the machine it's mounted to. It can be integrated onto any brand or size of commercial sprayer. Precision spraying can be carried out at the same travel speed as broadcast spraying, 20 kilometers per hour (12.4 mph), working day or night.

Greeneye Technology was founded in 2017 in Tel Aviv, Israel, with the mission to develop sustainable solutions to current crop-protection practices. Its founders have worked together for 15 years since serving in the Israeli special forces and head up a team with expertise in computer vision, AI, agronomy and mechanical engineering.

In 2019, Greeneye closed a $7-million seed-funding round led by Syngenta and JVP. In late 2021, Greeneye announced another successful funding round, this one for $22 million led by JVP, with participation from Syngenta Group Ventures, Hyperplane Venture Capital and One Way Ventures. AGCO, the manufacturer of the Fendt, Massey Ferguson, Challenger and Valtra brands, was also involved.

-- For more information, visit https://greeneye.ag/…

JOHN DEERE: SEE & SPRAY

See & Spray Select is the first commercially available John Deere machine factory-equipped with this advanced spraying technology. Farmers use See & Spray Select, installed on a Deere Sprayer, to minimize herbicide costs and spray weeds only where they are detected. The technology was introduced in early 2021.

See & Spray Select uses camera technology to detect color differentiation in the field and is ideal for small-grains farmers who manage weed pressure on fallow acres.

As the sprayer moves through the field, cameras mounted on the boom rapidly detect only green plants within fallow ground and trigger an application to those plants.

The forward-facing cameras spaced every 3 feet detect weeds ("green" as small as ¼-inch in diameter in a "brown" fallow field). When identified, a processor activates the correct nozzle for treatment of the weed. See & Spray analyzes 2,112 square feet per second from a sprayer moving at 12 mph. The entire process, from target detection to application, occurs in 200 milliseconds, about the blink of an eye.

-- HIGH HIT RATE

Deere says See & Spray Select has a similar hit rate to broadcast spraying, while applying 77% less herbicide on average.

Initially, Deere is marketing its technology to small grains farmers who manage weed pressure on fallow acres as part of a regular rotation. Deere is targeting U.S. regions east of the Rockies and in the Northwest for its initial sales of See & Spray Select.

Deere is promising a new, in-season, "green on green" See & Spray product soon. Treating pigweed in a row-crop application, for example, is more challenging than treating weeds on fallow field. But, Deere has been steadily working toward that goal in both preemergence and postemergence applications.

See Deere's See & Spray next-generation teaser video at https://www.youtube.com/…

See & Spray is built onto the foundation of Deere's ExactApply technology introduced in 2017. Its 400 and 600 Series sprayers equipped with See & Spray Select are the only factory-built solutions enabling farmers to operate both a spot-spray and a broadcast machine in one unit.

"Farmers battling herbicide resistance in their fields can now utilize more expensive and complex tank mixes, and achieve a more effective weed kill at a lower cost than they could have in the past thanks to the cost savings realized from only applying products onto the targeted weeds versus spraying the entire field," Joel Basinger, marketing manager for John Deere, said at the time of launch. "This helps farmers cover more acres per day because they're not stopping as often to refill."

-- For more information, visit www.JohnDeere.com/SeeAndSpray

MAGGROW: MAGNETIC ASSIST

As MagGrow opened its doors in 2013, the issue it sought to tackle was pesticide waste -- up to 70% of a product wasted. "These products are expensive, but 70% was being wasted using conventional technology, mainly by way of the nozzles," says Gary Wickham, CEO of MagGrow. The waste is herbicide product lost to drift and lack of plant adhesion.

MagGrow's core magnetic assist technology reduces waste, improves sustainability practices, and delivers better plant-protection products, the Dublin, Ireland-based technology company says.

This is not a technology that detects weeds on the go. Rather, MagGrow deploys rare earth magnets to expose pesticide fluids to static, nonuniform magnetic fields. This affects the physical properties of the fluid in terms of droplet formation, droplet dynamics and droplet adhesion to the plant.

Wickham says MagGrow has no effect on the pesticide. The fluid is not magnetized and can't be attracted or repelled by a magnet. The action of MagGrow is its influence in the system upon the charged particles present within the spray fluid as it flows through the sprayer.

The result, MagGrow says, is that its technology creates much smaller droplets but without the drift and waste normally associated when using these smaller nozzles.

MagGrow works with any crop. There is also a backpack sprayer version for greenhouse work. MagGrow also is not an electrostatic system that uses electrical discharge nozzles and air fans.

-- NO MOVING PARTS

The MagGrow system is designed to be retrofitted onto a sprayer boom regardless of make or model. Made from cast aluminum with no moving parts, the system consists of two components. One, eight manifolds containing rare earth magnets are plumbed between the tanks and the section control. Two, stainless steel-encased magnetic rods are fitted inside the entire length of the spray boom.

There are no moving parts and no electrical connections. The system is portable and can be moved from one sprayer to another. The magnets have long life. The technology loses 0.0001% of its strength over 20 years. "So, the magnets won't fail," Wickham says. MagGrow adds, on average, less than 2% to the weight of the boom.

"Not only are we brand-agnostic in terms of the sprayer type, we also know we don't impact the product. I can take that a step further. We're working with some biotechnology companies on biopesticides. And, we've done extensive work to show that there's no impact [from] the magnetic field on the living organisms they use."

-- IMPROVED COVERAGE

Using the MagGrow system compared to traditional spraying systems, growers have seen spray drift reduced by up to 70% and improved coverage by up to 40%, MagGrow says. The spray technology is said to reduce water usage by up to 50%.

MagGrow caught the attention of the food-production world when it recently won the THRIVE | Bayer Sustainability Award 2021 in the Scaleup category. The award was given for MagGrow's commitment to supporting more sustainable food production. As an award winner, MagGrow will have the opportunity to explore a proof-of-concept pilot project with Bayer.

The THRIVE | Bayer Sustainability Challenge was launched to identify and support key startup and scale-up innovators to implement solutions that promote sustainability.

MagGrow is also a member of Trimble Select Partner Program for Agriculture. MagGrow's technology is available through a worldwide distribution network with a significant footprint in the North American market.

In the U.S., MagGrow currently is focusing on growers along the West Coast and Idaho -- strawberries, grass and potatoes. In the Delta region, MagGrow is working on cotton and peanuts, among other crops.

-- For more information and farmer testimonials, visit www.maggrow.com

TRIMBLE: WEEDSEEKER 2

WeedSeeker 2 is Trimble's next-generation spot-spray system. Introduced a couple of seasons ago, WeedSeeker 2 boasts twice the spraying speed -- up to 25 mph -- over the original WeedSeeker product.

The WeedSeeker 2 optical sensor represents an important improvement over the original WeedSeeker product. It has a much-improved ability to pick out green over brown and yellow. The sensor uses a near-infrared reflected signature to identify the weed over bare soil and activate the respective spray solenoid to spray that weed.

Trimble says its product reduces the amount of chemical applied by up to 90%. WeedSeeker 2 is a fully ISOBUS-compatible system for use with Trimble displays or display from original equipment manufacturers.

-- SENSORS CREATE LOGS

WeedSeeker 2 uses sensors, not cameras, that could be used to record information from the field. But, it does log the locations where weeds are sprayed. Operators can see in real time their problem areas and later review detailed maps for adjustments before the next spray operation.

"We are taking the as-applied maps, the records showing when a solenoid is actuated. And then, that is tied back to GPS locations. So, we do have records of where spraying was taking place," says Nate Haverkamp, regional sales manager, located in Loveland, Colorado.

WeedSeeker 2 "helps growers become more efficient by utilizing advanced optical sensors, as well as powerful processing capabilities that detect and spray plants smaller than a dime but up to speeds of 25 mph," Haverkamp says. "When a weed is passing underneath the boom, the optical sensor picks it up, links to the spray nozzle and precisely delivers the herbicide that kills the weed."

WeedSeeker 2 can be used on all types of farms, but its best return is from treating weeds on dark backgrounds, Haverkamp says. "Fallow fields or broad-acre applications are important. Viticulture is a big one, orchards. Think West Coast, pistachios, walnuts, things of that nature. And then, there's even some use cases for interrow spraying in crops such as cotton."

Trimble points to a University of Arizona study that shows the WeedSeeker 2 system is 98% accurate. "It is the fastest spot-spray system on the market today," Haverkamp says. "It can detect right away a weed the size of a dime at 25 mph."

-- For more information, visit ag.trimble.com/weedseeker2

**

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

-- https://greeneye.ag/…

-- www.JohnDeere.com/SeeAndSpray

-- www.maggrow.com

-- ag.trimble.com/weedseeker2

-- Follow Dan on Twitter @DMillerPF

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