Automated laser weeding, an environmentally sound alternative to herbicide use and high labor cost in processing tomato production
The standard practice to eliminate weeds in crop production around the world is the use of agriculture chemicals called herbicides. Its use has been the common alternative to prevent obnoxious weeds from affecting crop yields since the beginning of the Green Revolution, dating back to the 1960s. However, the effect of the excessive use of these chemicals is a negative impact on our environment. For example, herbicides can pollute our surrounding environment through flooding or irrigation drainage, since chemical residues can be leached or moved from nearby farming areas into water bodies such as rivers, lakes, and underground reservoirs. On the other hand, the labor cost of hand weeding is becoming prohibitive for conventional processing tomatoes and posing an even greater challenge in organic tomato production, where use of synthetic herbicides is not allowed.
In 2019, the Morning Star Agriculture Research and Development Department started to look for solutions that could help us overcome these challenges. We started a very promising research partnership with ESCARDA Technologies, an agriculture technology company based in Berlin, Germany. Through this collaboration, we have developed a solution in processing tomato crops using an automated laser device that kills weeds without the use of herbicides. The one-row prototype has two main components: 1) a high-tech AI (artificial intelligence) vision system that accurately detects weeds and differentiates them from tomato plants, and 2) a highly accurate laser component that shoots and kills weeds in a matter of milliseconds. Preliminary data obtained during prototype field testing in early June, 2022 was very promising, with both components working seamlessly. However, as in any R&D process, we identified improvement opportunities and are currently working on fine-tuning those aspects. Our aim is to achieve two main goals: laser accuracy and equipment speed. The next step in the field validation process is testing of the final laser weeding box, to be conducted in late October, 2022.
As the project continues its normal development process, Morning Star is excited to further solidify our partnership with the ESCARDA Technologies team. We strongly believe that our tomato grower business partners could benefit from the successful development of this laser weeding technology. Furthermore, we are certain it will provide not only a valuable tool to tomato growers in their fight against weeds, but also an important opportunity to minimize environmental harm through use of chemical herbicides.
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