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Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

General discussions of the systemic, societal and civilisational effects of depletion.

Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby Tanada » Wed 22 Jun 2022, 15:30:54

‘Ten years ago this was science fiction’: the rise of weedkilling robots

In the corner of an Ohio field, a laser-armed robot inches through a sea of onions, zapping weeds as it goes.

This field doesn’t belong to a dystopian future but to Shay Myers, a third-generation farmer whose TikTok posts about farming life often go viral.

He began using two robots last year to weed his 12-hectare (30-acre) crop. The robots – which are nearly three metres long, weigh 4,300kg (9,500lb), and resemble a small car – clamber slowly across a field, scanning beneath them for weeds which they then target with laser bursts.

“For microseconds you watch these reddish color bursts. You see the weed, it lights up as the laser hits, and it’s just gone,” said Myers. “Ten years ago this was science fiction.” Other than engine sounds, the robots are almost silent and each one can destroy 100,000 weeds an hour, according to Carbon Robotics, the company that makes them.

Carbon Robotics, in common with other agri-robotic startups, emphasizes the environmental benefits these machines can bring to farming by helping to reduce soil disturbance, which can contribute to erosion, and allowing farmers to heavily reduce or even eradicate the use of herbicides.

Farmers are under increasing pressure to reduce their use of herbicides and other chemicals, which can contaminate ground and surface water, affect wildlife and non-target plants, and have been linked to increased cancer risk. At the same time, they are battling a rise in herbicide-resistant weeds, giving extra impetus to the search for new ways to kill weeds.

“Reduced herbicide usage is one of the spectacular outcomes of precision weeding,” said Gautham Das, a senior lecturer in agri-robotics at the University of Lincoln. Destroying weeds with lasers or ultraviolet light uses no chemicals at all. But even with robots that do use herbicides, their ability to precisely target weeds can reduce the use about 90% compared with conventional blanket spraying, Das said.

Five years ago there were almost no companies specializing in farm robots, said Sébastien Boyer, the French-born head of San Francisco-based robot weeding company FarmWise, but it’s now “a booming field”.

The global market for these agricultural robots – which can also be designed to perform tasks such as seeding, harvesting and environmental monitoring – is predicted to increase from $5.4bn in 2020 to more than $20bn by 2026. “Things scale up very quickly in agriculture,” said Myers.

They’re not just the preserve of larger farms, said Elizabeth Sklar, an engineering professor at King’s College London, “some of the smaller farms are able to be more flexible with trying out new approaches”.

FarmWise found its first customers in California’s Salinas Valley, which grows lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries and is known as “America’s salad bowl”. Ten of the US’s 20 largest vegetable growers, in California and Arizona, now use the company’s robot weeders, according to Boyer. “In the beginning, they started working with us as an experiment, but now they are heavily relying on us”.

Removing pests, such as aphids, thrips and lygus bugs, is a next step for FarmWise. Robots can markedly reduce the use of fungicides and pesticides, said Boyer, by applying them more precisely, using computer vision.

As well as concerns over farming chemicals, labor shortages also play a part in robots’ advance into farmland. Farm labour can be “expensive, hard to come by and dangerous” for people involved, said Myers. In a viral TikTok video in April he said he could not hire workers to pick his asparagus crop because the government had not granted him visas in time.

There are still big challenges to wider-scale adoption. One problem is working in places where a battery recharge is not always readily available, which is a reason some robots – including those made by Carbon Robotics and FarmWise – use diesel for power, which itself produces harmful emissions and pollution.

The robot farmers of the future “have got to be different than the machines we’ve created in the past. You don’t want big, fossil fuel-guzzling machines; you want smaller, renewable energy-using machines,” said David Rose, professor of agricultural innovation at the University of Reading in the UK.

Some robots are already powered by renewable energy. UK-based Small Robot Company’s spider-shaped weeding robot is powered by Tesla batteries. Danish company FarmDroid’s machines and a herbicide-spraying robot made by Switzerland’s Ecorobotix are both solar powered.

With batteries rapidly becoming lighter and gaining capacity, farm robots could soon be electrified, said Paul Mikesell, head of Carbon Robotics. This must be accompanied by charging infrastructure on farms, said Rose. “I don’t think we’re far away at all,” he added.

In the meantime, using fewer herbicides may be worth some diesel use, said Richard Smith, a weed science farm adviser from University of California at Davis. “In comparison to all the other tractor work that is done on intensive vegetable production fields, the amount used for the auto-weeders is a small percent,” he said.

Another challenge is cost. These robots are still expensive, though broader adoption is likely to bring costs down. Carbon Robotics’s robot costs roughly the same as a mid-size tractor – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (it won’t confirm exact costs) – though the company says it is also exploring leasing possibilities.

FarmWise sells robots’ weeding labor, rather than the robots themselves, charging roughly $200 an acre. Selling a weeding service instead of selling robots requires less upfront investment from farmers, said Boyer, and helped get the robotics business off the ground.

“These service models should reduce the cost barrier for most farmers, and they do not have to worry too much about the technical difficulties with these robots,” Das said.

Covid has been a problem, too, impeding access to clients, investors and semiconductors from Asia. The pandemic has “squeezed startups out of the runway”, says Andra Keay, head of the non-profit Silicon Valley Robotics.

But, beyond weeding robots, Covid has also spurred interest in how robots can shorten supply chains.

Robot-run greenhouses can use hydroponics – growing plants without soil – to produce food closer to large population centres like New York, instead of in places like California where soil is richer.

Iron Ox, a robot-powered greenhouse company based in California, has devised a robotic arm which scans each greenhouse plant and creates a 3D model of it to monitor it for disease and pests. It operates two robotic greenhouses now selling produce to shops in the Bay Area, and just broke ground on a third in Texas.

“Not a lot has changed in agriculture, especially in fresh produce, in the last 70 years,” said Brandon Alexander, the head of Iron Ox who grew up in a large Texas farming family. “Robotic farming offers a chance for humanity to address climate change before 2050,” he said.


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To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby C8 » Thu 23 Jun 2022, 10:25:06

My fear is that we are automating farming too much- what happens when it all breaks down and nobody remembers how to farm low tech? It seems like we are going out on an evolutionary limb and becoming homo-digitalis. I am very concerned that our society is becoming too dependent on computers and electricity.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby JuanP » Thu 23 Jun 2022, 10:31:37

"The next war in Europe will be between Russia and fascism, except that fascism will be called democracy" Fidel Castro
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby Tanada » Thu 23 Jun 2022, 10:53:47

C8 wrote:My fear is that we are automating farming too much- what happens when it all breaks down and nobody remembers how to farm low tech? It seems like we are going out on an evolutionary limb and becoming homo-digitalis. I am very concerned that our society is becoming too dependent on computers and electricity.


Corporate farms are only focused on the bottom line. If a laser armed weed killing robot is cheaper then petrochemical weed and pest control that is the option the corporations will prefer.
Alfred Tennyson wrote:We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby Newfie » Thu 23 Jun 2022, 17:05:21

Interesting. Lots of questions. But it sounds like they are moving forward.

Maybe some Smart Irrigation is another use? How much water do you save if you apply it sparingly?
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby Tanada » Thu 23 Jun 2022, 19:25:29

Newfie wrote:Interesting. Lots of questions. But it sounds like they are moving forward.

Maybe some Smart Irrigation is another use? How much water do you save if you apply it sparingly?


Israeli scientists developed a drip irrigation system decades ago that delivers targeted quantities directly to the crop plant and not the weeds around it. It seems like with an appropriate rig you could have a robot farmer that zaps weeds with a laser while also injecting a premeasured dose of water directly into the soil at the base of the crop plant. You could add a tiny dose of nitrate based fertilizer to the water so it gets just enough water and fertilizer for its needs like the lush spots my dogs leave when the pee in my yard.
Alfred Tennyson wrote:We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby C8 » Thu 23 Jun 2022, 21:08:52

Tanada wrote:
C8 wrote:My fear is that we are automating farming too much- what happens when it all breaks down and nobody remembers how to farm low tech? It seems like we are going out on an evolutionary limb and becoming homo-digitalis. I am very concerned that our society is becoming too dependent on computers and electricity.


Corporate farms are only focused on the bottom line. If a laser armed weed killing robot is cheaper then petrochemical weed and pest control that is the option the corporations will prefer.


That's the problem- the future of the nation is being completely wagered on short term quarterly profits. We have no real leaders or plan- just a blind rush. This never ends well.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby theluckycountry » Fri 24 Jun 2022, 01:54:18

JuanP wrote:Weeding tools and supplies
https://www.johnnyseeds.com/tools-suppl ... d-control/


yeah lol. I think hungry unemployed people will take over from roundup long before armies of little robots do.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby suxs » Fri 24 Jun 2022, 03:00:41

In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that Trump's animosity towards environmental protection and regulation of industry resulted in the poisoning of Americans and exposed the people to a witch's brew of cancer-causing chemicals. Accordingly, the Trump administration broke the law when it decided, without any basis in fact, that glyphosate is safe for humans.

It was determined that the "EPA's pesticide division colluded with Monsanto to undermine the International Agency for Research on Cancer's determination, and ignored experts from EPA's own science division."

MAGA.
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Re: Petrochemical Free Farm Weed Control

Unread postby JuanP » Fri 24 Jun 2022, 10:06:54

Tanada wrote:Israeli scientists developed a drip irrigation system decades ago that delivers targeted quantities directly to the crop plant and not the weeds around it. It seems like with an appropriate rig you could have a robot farmer that zaps weeds with a laser while also injecting a premeasured dose of water directly into the soil at the base of the crop plant. You could add a tiny dose of nitrate based fertilizer to the water so it gets just enough water and fertilizer for its needs like the lush spots my dogs leave when the pee in my yard.


That is called fertigation. I have been using fertigation systems for years in gardens and farms. They are extremely efficient and save both time and money.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertigation
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