New technology: Solar-powered robot for drilling and weeding

A fully autonomous, solar-powered robot capable of precision drilling and weeding has been launched by Opico.

Offering pesticide-free weed control with zero fuel bills, the FarmDroid is the brainchild of two Danish farmers that takes a really simple approach to how it works.

FarmDroid uses ultra-accurate GPS to record exactly where it places each seed. Then, on each subsequent weeding pass it has no need to identify what’s a weed and what’s not – it simply knows where the crop plants should be and works around them. Hoe shares running between each row and blades slice off anything between each crop plant in the row.

This means that, unlike other similar machines, it doesn’t need to employ banks of high-definition cameras and complex computers to identify and target weeds. It also means the machine can start the weeding process before the crop has emerged because camera recognition is not required.

Its simplicity is just one of a number of features that set the machine apart from anything else on the market, pointed out importing company, Opico.

“Being solar-powered, FarmDroid doesn’t incur any fuel bills for the machine. Not only does this have a clear impact on the bottom line with today’s increasingly volatile energy markets, it’s also environmentally friendly,” said Opico’s managing director, James Woolway..

“In a future where food retailers are progressively looking to be perceived as ‘green’ with carbon audits becoming more and more common, the FarmDroid can help provide one step towards energy self-sufficiency – and herbicide-free crop production.

“With in-row and inter-row action it eliminates weeds both between the rows and between the crop plants. Capable of working right to up within 5mm of each seedling between the rows and 20mm in the row, the FarmDroid’s shares mean it does the complete job, so there is no need for hand-rogueing problem weeds like fat-hen saving around £250/ha).”

Weighing just 800kg, the machine has the lightest footprint possible, meaning it’s also good for soil health and headlands aren’t run down, with the result that yields are maintained across the entire cropped area.

Opico added that organic growers across northern Europe and in the UK, had seen some fairly dramatic results by using the FarmDroid. They’re reporting increases in beet yields of 40-60% over tractor-hoed crops, putting this down to the combination of precise seed placement and intra-row weed control making for uniform crop development.

Combined with the savings in herbicides, fuel, labour and machinery costs like depreciation, maintenance, tyres, capital tie-up, etc, the financial argument for paying £59,500 for the current six-row FD20 model, plus £4243 required for an RTK base station. Grant funding might also be available to assist with its purchase.

“We believe robotics will form the backbone of the next major step in technological development for agriculture,” explained Mr Woolway. “FarmDroid has come up with a unique solution that is suited to large and small-scale farming systems, and our distribution network, parts and technical teams are more than capable of backing the product up, so it’s a great fit.

“While it’s early days, we’re coming to the UK market with a product that is tried and tested. The timing couldn’t be better with rising energy costs, labour issues and environmental factors at the forefront of UK farmers’ minds.”

First published in the Scottish Farmer

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