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New technology in the fight against grassland weeds

An innovative precision farming platform is employing artificial intelligence (AI) in the battle against weeds in grassland.

New technology in the fight against grassland weeds

One of the biggest problems for farmers investing in new precision farming technology is green-on-green, i.e the targeting of green weeds in a green crop. Farm tech is often unable to identify the weeds to guide a sprayer system for precision targeting.

Now, SoilEssentials, the precision farming solutions pioneer, based in Angus, Scotland has harnessed expertise from the space industry along with agronomists and leading academics, to develop AI to overcome the green-on-green challenge.

Their project SKAi (The SoilEssentials KORE Artificial Intelligence platform, pronounced sky) has developed AI components which can be trained to recognise broad-leaved weeds growing in grass crops and then take control of a crop sprayer to implement targeted control as the machine progresses through the crop. The re-trainable smart camera has been programmed with vision in order to recognise, map and precision apply agrochemicals to crops.

Dr. Gregor Welsh from SoilEssentials, explained: “Green-on-green species recognition is probably the biggest challenge we must overcome if farmers are to benefit from the efficiencies of automated targeted weed control in the future.

“I am delighted to report on the progress our SKAi project has made towards overcoming this challenge. We are now able to train SKAi to target weeds in grass fields and automate the sprayer control via our machine-mounted hardware.

“The new SKAi technology operates in real-time, meaning there is no need to pre-map the field, the on-board AI is set-up to constantly scan the vegetation, identify and selectively treat the weeds as the sprayer boom passes over. Trials of the system are showing high levels of success in the spraying of docks in grass fields and we are confident that our partnership will be able to progress SKAi until it can recognise and differentiate between a wide range of weed and cash crop species.”

Graham Ralston, hardware director at SoilEssentials commented on the potential rollout of the new SKAi technology to the wider farming industry:  “Targeted weed control, resulting in reduced input costs and reduced environmental impact, is a win-win for farmers seeking more sustainable use of agrochemicals.

“There are many situations where blanket herbicide application across a whole field is undesirable – I’m thinking of broadleaf weed control in swards containing clover, for example. Ultimately, our challenge is to refine the technology until targeted control can be achieved even in what would appear to be difficult scenarios, e.g. blackgrass in wheat crops. And, of course, we must also make sure that the system makes affordable economic sense versus existing spray application methods.”

SoilEssentials are partnered in the InnovateUK funded project by Deimos Space UK, University of the West of England and Scottish Agronomy Ltd.

Prof. Mark Hansen, of the University of the West of England Centre for Machine Visions, said: “For UWE Bristol, being a part of the SKAi team gives us the opportunity to transfer academic knowledge into the real world in a cutting-edge project that will bring huge environmental benefits.”


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