“Meeting the world’s requirements for more food by 2050 is a daunting task given current weed control methods,” says Nikolaos Koukiasas of The University of Reading, who is discussing his work at REAP 2019.
“Pressures from policy makers and consumers regarding the use of pesticides make sure that this increase in productivity will have to occur in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
“The lack of herbicides and the increasing cost of manual weeding are driving innovation in weed management programmes. Technologies such as autonomous robotic weeders use cameras to distinguish the crop from the weed and then herbicide is applied as a single droplet directly to the leaves of the unwanted plants. Field trials have shown that this method of herbicide application provides high levels of weed control and can reduce herbicide use by over 90 per cent when compared to current spraying methods without significant yield loss. Economic analyses have demonstrated that it would be highly profitable to use an autonomous machine compared to broadcast spraying with a tractor.
“The long-term prospects for controlling weeds do not look promising without new herbicides or a coordinated strategy to manage herbicide-resistant weeds. However trends in robotics and life sciences suggest that there are a number of options available for improving weed control which could be integrated with existing methods to create more sustainable weed management systems.”
Nikolaos Koukiasas is a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading.