Innovative smart farm sprayer. A smart spraying technology is a cutting-edge substitution to a conventional sprayer that automatically disperses chemicals on the crops following a set of regulations ensuring the process is efficient and sustainable. In 2018 conventional spraying technologies were supplied with high-speed sensors and IoT technology bringing pesticide application into the digital age. From the first field experiment, intelligent spraying technology showed astounding results, which are only improving with technological advances and the rise of connected farming. Here is a short video, describing the concept of intelligent spraying and what role automation and artificial intelligence play in agriculture.
SAVINGS OPPORTUNITY: John Deere’s See & Spray targeted spraying technology is available on its own self-propelled dual-tank machine, as a retrofit to existing sprayers, or with green-on-brown capability on fallow fields. “The more passes you make, the more opportunity for savings,” says Tim Deinert, market manager for application equipment at Deere. In the past 20 years, farm equipment got bigger, wider and faster. Now it’s getting smarter, driven by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer or camera visioning, which can identify and spray a weed, leaving the crop untouched and dramatically reducing chemical use.
“There will be greater value for those who run that machine on as many acres as possible,” notes Purdue weed scientist Bryan Young. “So custom applicators who capture value in their per-acre service structure, or very large crop farmers, have the chance to get a quicker ROI for these machines, as well as some higher-value crop situations or when expensive herbicides are being used. In non-GMO soybeans, for example, nobody likes to burn beans with a foliar herbicide application. But last year at Purdue, a foliar broadcast application of a herbicide resulted in 20% to 30% soybean burn, compared with only 5% to 10% soybean injury when using John Deere’s See & Spray, where only small, localized areas with weeds were sprayed. “Reduced crop stress with the herbicide application while controlling all weeds that have emerged is a win for crop protection and farmers.”
Postemergence. For those who focus most of their weed control on postemergence applications — including a standard total postemergence system, even if performed early postemergence with a residual herbicide — weed densities will normally be way too high and result in broadcast, rather than targeted, applications.
Preemergence. What about reduced preemergence followed by a targeted spray post? It depends on weed populations and herbicide costs. Over the last two years when glyphosate shot up above $15 per acre due to supply chain issues, reducing the coverage area receiving a glyphosate treatment made sense. Today, with glyphosate at about $6 per acre, that scenario is less cost-effective for saving money with a targeted glyphosate spray.
But most post applications in corn and soybeans include multiple herbicide modes of action and can cost over $40 per acre if broadcast. Even if some of the herbicides in that mixture can be applied separately for a targeted application, a 50% reduction in spray can result in savings that can easily surpass the cost of the spray technology.
Crop needs. The ROI from smart spraying will differ based on your crop protection needs. A cotton farmer who applies multiple post-emergence sprays will save more money than a soybean grower who makes one post pass.
Sustainability play of Innovative smart farm sprayer
Innovative smart farm sprayer. “It’s great for reducing chemicals and it’s great for sustainability, as there is no excess chemical going onto the ground, so less waste and runoff,” Deinert says. “The technology will get better over time. There will be more things we can do with this than what we do today.”
Those regulations will drive sales for smart sprayers, argues Dave Britton, Trimble Agriculture’s vice president of product management. Agco is teaming with One Smart Spray, formerly known as Bosch/BASF Smart Farming, and plans to roll out smart spraying on Fendt Rogator sprayers next year. They will have dual-tank capability for green-on-green and green-on-brown spraying, and include strobe lights that enable camera visioning to spray weeds in darkness. “Night spraying is a tremendous amount of work, and we’re excited to bring that capability to farmers,” says Seth Crawford, senior vice president and general manager of precision ag and digital at Agco. “In prototype testing, we are seeing up to a 90% savings on chemicals.
Smart-spray technology is available as a retrofit to existing sprayers, which could speed adoption via a lower entry cost.“One of the big things we hear is, ‘I don’t want to have to buy a half-million-dollar piece of equipment to get the latest technology,’ ” Crawford says. Sense-and-act technology as a retrofit is already available at Deere and Greeneye, and will be at Agco next year. Greeneye’s approach is to replace your existing boom with its own sensor-laden boom. . Agco’s Precision Planting entered the sprayer market just a year and a half ago with its Symphony Nozzle control, which allows the sprayer to maintain pressure even at changing speed. It is testing Symphony Targeted Spraying, a camera and AI-based hardware and software technology built for existing sprayers that lets you vary the spray rate based on weed size and pressure.
Retailers won’t necessarily replace all sprayers with See & Spray,” Deinert says. “The retailer could provide a different type of solution to a customer, and they may charge based on outcomes rather than inputs. They may try to bundle services with a targeted spray pass. “Before, if you were looking at a second or third post pass, you questioned the ROI. As a retailer, you could bundle fungicide with a See & Spray pass to clean up the field as you applied fungicide.” This sprayer technology could enable novel herbicide molecules being developed that were not feasible using broadcast applications. As people learn best practices with targeted spraying, it should also drive higher soil residual herbicide use, Young says.
“That’s what we want anyhow as a best management practice — never let weeds come up,” he says. “We’re going to have to do that to realize the value of targeted sprayers.”Even if smart sprayers don’t provide a clear ROI, Young predicts they will become part of the commercial agriculture landscape. “It will be like power windows on your car. You may or may not have wanted them. And then at some point, you had no choice. They were on every vehicle.
“In five years, people will understand this tech as well as autosteer today,” he predicts. “They don’t question it; they just know it works. It’s going to be the same with camera visioning and sprayer nozzles. “At that point, people will be deciding more and more, what can I optimize? Today we detect crops vs. weeds.