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Digital imaging technologies are widely used in industrial inspection, product quality testing, automation control and process optimization. Likewise, in agriculture, the use of machine vision can raise productivity, reduce costs and protect the environment in the process. For that reason, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have developed a novel system to automatically recognize and combat weeds in the field.
Battling weeds: swatting a fly with a bazooka
Just as weeds are barely managable in the average garden, they are no less unwieldy on farms. One typical example is the wild potato that grows in sugar beet fields. The plant in question results from leftover potato plants that then grow back wild in years when the crop is rotated to sugar beets. The potato weed releases nematodes and can also spread diseases such as phytophtora infestans across the field. In multi-acre fields, it is impossible to manually dig up each individual wild potato, necessitating chemical means as the only real solution: thus, to eradicate a few scattered weeds, the entire field must be sprayed with pesticides that of course also come into contact with the intentionally cultivated crop.
The Netherlands are known for their advanced and highly productive agricultural sector, occupying one of the top spots in global agronomy. Thus, it is no wonder that Dutch researchers have taken on the problem of weed eradication. This five-year-long project of the Farm Technology group of Wageningen University was part of a dissertation research project and was supported by the STW Technology Foundation in Utrecht.
Giant field scanner
The goal of the project was to recognize and to precisely attack potato weed plants without contaminating the entire field surface and, above all, the sugar beet harvest. It quickly became evident that an imaging system would be necessary to differentiate between plants in the field and accordingly to spray only those to be destroyed.
With the support of Dutch imaging specialist Data Vision, Allied Vision Technologies' sales partner in the Benelux countries, researchers developed a mobile system that can be hauled by a tractor. This giant scanner captures the ground surface and recognizes the wild potato plants, which are then subsequently targeted and treated with a herbicide microsprayer.