IMAGINE if you could cut your herbicide, insecticide and fungicide bill by using as much as 99 per cent less chemical.
That’s the claim by an English research company working on the development of an intelligent sprayer that can recognise specific weeds, insects and diseases in agricultural crops.
There are already a few targeted droplet dispensing systems on the Australian market that can do this with varying success, but Cambridge Consultants claims its sprayer features new generation technology that has been transferred across from its medical product development team.
“Just like clay pigeon shooting, the system has to ‘lead’ the target – the droplet has to be fired up to 50 centimetres before the boom passes over the target,” said Cambridge Consultants agrifood product development head Niall Mottram.
“The droplet travels at five metres a second and takes one-tenth of a second to hit the target.
“At full speed, the target passes under the nozzle in about three milliseconds.”
Mr Mottram said doing more with less was one of the biggest challenges facing agribusiness as the industry strived to meet the challenge of feeding an additional two billion mouths by 2050.
Alongside the demand for increased food production, he said environmental and economic factors were driving a need to cut the amount of chemicals used on crops not just in the UK but around the world.
“By targeting only specific foreign leaves or pests, the amount of chemicals dispensed is dramatically reduced – with drift and run-off virtually eliminated,” Mr Mottram said.
“The reduction of run-off is particularly crucial for the environment as it helps prevent ground water pollution by chemical pesticides.”
Cambridge Consultants has combined its microfluidics expertise from medical product development with machine vision algorithms to enable active chemicals to be applied only where they’re needed – even when farm machinery is moving at speeds of more than 40 kilometres an hour.
Mr Mottram said the technology could instantly identify and target a specific leaf or insect from a height of 50cm.
A camera mounted on a tractor’s spray boom looks ahead at the crop and uses shape, size and colour to identify targets.
“They are then tracked as the vehicle approaches, the path and speed are calculated using probabilistic programming, and the position and timing details are passed to the dispensing system – which aims the nozzle and triggers the dispense valve,” he said.
Mr Mottram said he and industrial product development head Nathan Wrench had been taking the demonstration to various events across Europe.