Trends Bring Mechanical Weed Control Options to Market | AG
What’s the next big thing?
This is a question often asked of the farming community. The answers evolve as new cultures, practices and amenities take place either on the pedestal of innovation or on the scrap of history.
Resistance to herbicides, environmental concerns, and the growth of organic farming have required ways to kill weeds without the use of chemicals. Several machines that could at least reduce dependence on herbicides have been invented.
It’s a technology that has the potential to be much more than a passing fad.
“I would be very surprised if this was wrong somewhere,” said Adam Davis, a weed specialist at the University of Illinois.
The Harrington Seed Destructor, introduced in Australia a few years ago, is a machine pulled behind or attached to a combine harvester. The idea is to destroy the weed seeds which are ejected as chaff when harvesting. The University of Illinois is one of many research centers that have tested the machine.
So far, it has proven to be up to the task.
“When (the seeds) hit the ground, they won’t survive the winter,” Davis said. “The percent destruction was in the 90s. They seem pretty reliable in terms of service and installation.
Tools with other modes of action have also been introduced. Among them is the Weed Zapper, a machine that uses static electricity to destroy weeds stuck above the crop’s canopy. Launched in 2019 by Old School Manufacturing in Sedalia, Missouri, the device is finding customers.
About 17 or 18 of the units were sold in the first year, Old School’s Nicole Kroeger said. Today, there are more than 300 on the ground. The Zapper is a tractor implement that carries a generator and a transformer that sends 15,000 volts of electricity to the front helm.
“Our goal is to hit the weeds that are above the canopy,” Kroeger said. “Ideally, these would be used in soybean fields or pumpkins. “
Davis also tested the Weed Zapper. Its effectiveness is visually demonstrated.
“It’s pretty dramatic if you do it at night,” he said. “It lights up like a flare.”
While such a machine would be suitable for organic operations where herbicides are prohibited, Kroeger said usage is around 50% conventional. Yet organic farming obviously benefits from such technology.
“In row crops like corn and soybeans, they’re developing new technology. Automated robots coming down the row and removing weeds, ”said Dave Chapman of the Real Organic Project. “They’re like vacuum cleaners that vacuum your house while you’re away. I saw it like a finger weed killer with little teeth that cut across the field. It’s not quite there yet. It is still under development at the testing stage.
Other companies have entered the mechanical weeding market. Girish Chowdhary of the U of I led a team that tested the TerraSentia robot made by Earth Sense. Additionally, a Boston-area company produces the Tertill, a small solar-powered robot similar in appearance to the Roomba vacuum cleaner. It is designed to weed areas the size of a garden.
Davis is impressed with the Weed Zapper, although it has an obvious downside.
“This is clearly problematic because you lose a lot of your yield before these weeds have emerged above the canopy,” he said. “But if you think about minimizing the return of weed seeds, giant ragweed and common water hemp will keep their seeds until mid-September. “