A fully-automatic, ground-based weed mapping system enabling growers to precisely manage black-grass should be commercially available in the next two years, according to the eyeWeed project, co-funded by Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board).
The eyeWeed system is set to form the basis of a season-long platform for monitoring and mapping a growing range of valuable precision farming parameters, say the project’s partners.
The project consortium of commercial and academic partners, led by Agrii and including the University of Reading, Concurrent Solutions, Knight Farm Machinery, Syngenta, and Patchwork Technology, has been successfully turning the university’s original proof of concept into a practical system for reliable farm black-grass mapping use over the past five years.
The advanced eyeWeed prototype being put through its paces this season comprises six spray boom-mounted cameras linked to computer software which is able to accurately map black-grass patches in wheat crops in mid-June at much higher resolution than possible with current aerial imagery.
Additionally, it can produce black-grass infestation maps in real-time without any extra operations and with none of the weather-related limitations of drone-based or satellite detection.
John Lord, project leader and Agrii decision support services manager, says: “We have developed the system in detailed work on a number of fields across several farms over three full seasons to map black-grass patches with great accuracy in wheat during T3 spraying.
“Unlike other approaches, no field walking is required to ‘ground truth’ the identified weeds and all the work can be done as part of normal field operations, whenever the weather is suitable for spraying.
“The maps we are producing can be automatically employed in management zoning as part of precision farming systems for variable seed rates as well as targeted pre-, peri- or post-em patch spraying.
“In all but the worst cases, black-grass is concentrated into well-defined field patches. So it makes sense to concentrate higher seed rates and the most robust autumn herbicide stacks and sequences on these wherever possible, rather than employing them across the whole area.
Not least because a patch-spraying programme can increase your gross margin by £50/hectare or more, while also delivering valuable environmental benefits at a time when both are becoming increasingly important to most growers.
“The maps can also be used for automatic summer patch-spraying with glyphosate, if necessary, for greater precision in autumn cultivations and stale seedbed management where feasible.
“At the same time, they provide the best possible field-by-field records for planning future black-grass management and tracking the success of control strategies, not to mention the development of resistance.”
Mr Lord says the eyeWeed data will be made available to growers and agronomists through the Agrii Precision Services portal, integrated with the company’s SoilQuest soil mapping, MetQuest weather station data and other precision agronomy and decision support services.
While black-grass management has been its initial driver, he adds the system emerging from the project offers huge potential for use in a range of other mapping and crop management applications linked to sprayer work through the year.
Currently being explored by the team are the summer use of the camera system to map black-grass in barley and development of alternative algorithms to identify other weeds such as rye-grass, wild oats and brome in wheat.
“We have also designed the unit to take another sensor at each camera housing, so it could be employed to provide NVDI maps for variable nitrogen application or any of a number of other sensing technologies under development too,” he says.
“Essentially, we are producing a ground-based multiple-sensing platform which can be added to modern sprayers to enable the most accurate crop monitoring and mapping throughout the season as part of their normal operations.
“We are confident of being able to introduce, in the next two years, the most robust, accurate and work-proof black-grass mapping service at a price which will cover its initial costs in as little as three seasons.
“As we develop and validate the necessary additional sensing and analytical software, we see eyeWeed being employed as a regular tool at no extra effort and for little extra cost throughout the spraying season to provide invaluable, near-to-real-time crop information for the most effective precision agronomy.”