Picture Perfect

By: Andrew Hobbs

Presented by

Using cameras to identify and spray weeds on sight, the next generation of precision sprayers is here.

Picture Perfect
One of the AiCPlus Cameras used to identify weeds


Spraying only weeds while piloting a sprayer through your paddock at 30km/h – and saving significant amounts on chemicals and water as a result – could be a reality for Australian farmers by the time summer rolls around.

That is the promise made by Dutch agricultural technology developer Agrifac, with the local launch of its AiCPlus system for expected delivery in time for summer spraying.

Agrifac signed a deal to work more closely with Hardi Australia late last year - click here to read more 

Developed with French tech innovator Bilberry in Australia and the Netherlands, the system uses artificial intelligence to recognise weed species from photographs taken by an array of cameras spaced at 3 metre intervals along the boom.

Once identified, computer algorithms consider factors such as the height of the boom, the speed of the sprayer and the distance from the camera to the weed, and then calculates exactly which nozzles need to open and when – resulting in the boom only spraying within 500mm of the offending weed.

Agrifac chief operating officer Roeland Coopman told TradeFarmMachinery.com.au that the system is the latest innovation in a series from the company dating back to the 1980s – with work on the algorithms to identify weeds by picture alone beginning in 2014.

"We tried to take pictures in the earliest stage of seeding – but we took pictures over the entire season, so we want to recognise weeds at all different heights and widths and stages
of development," he says.

"When you have a plant that is 3cm high we have a guaranteed average hit rate of 92 per cent, and when it is 5cm high we have a guaranteed hit rate of 95 per cent."

"In practice our hit rate was much higher on numerous runs, of course the statistical confidence interval is taken into consideration," he says.

Agrifac says that early trials of the system over 6,199 hectares at Beefwood Farms, outside of Moree NSW, helped reduce water usage from 929,840 litres to 60,440l, and use of chemical from 27,896l to 1,814l.

Reducing the refill delays from 116 hours to six hours meant 1,000 hectares could be treated in a 12 to 13 hour day.

So far the system has been tested in its ‘Green on Brown’ phase – spraying green weeds in stubble, fallow fields and bare soil, with algorithms developed to spray for white radish and sorrel.

"I can’t tell you the other ones that will come, but we are working hard on six others, which we hope to have finished before the season breaks," Coopman says.

"We will launch it at 20km/h, before the next summer spraying we expect to have 25km/h but we hope to have it up to 30 km/h."


Precision spraying in action


The technology is currently only available on booms of either 36m or 48m, with Coopman saying the processing capacity needed to handle its requirement of taking two photographs of every plant is the only thing limiting the size at present.

Depending on boom width, installing an AiCPlus camera system will cost from $200,000. Against that investment, the Beefwood Farms trial delivered a chemical saving worth $151,277 in the first three months of this season, Agrifac says.

"When in-crop spraying is released the savings will be even more due to more expensive chemicals used," the company adds.

The system uses other Agrifac technologies including its StrictHeightPlus boom height level control, and StrictSprayPlus nozzle control, and the testing was completed using the Agrifac
Condor Endurance Sprayer.

Agrifac has confirmed that five Condor Endurance II self-propelled sprayers have been delivered to Western Australian farms this month, with another 20 confirmed to be delivered over the course of the year.

Distributed and supported by Hardi Australia and designed specifically for local conditions, the fuel capacity of the new sprayer has been increased from 390l to 700l, while a 405  horsepower (302kW) Cummins engine replaces the previous Volvo 320hp (239kW) unit.

The Endurance II filling station is now at the front of the sprayer, so operators can drive straight up to their chemical store and water source, while the centrifugal filling pump and mixing station can be stowed under the cab during spraying.

Clean water capacity has been increased to 700l, and the distinctive ‘J-Boom’ has been slightly redesigned to improve its performance – though boom widths are unchanged, at 24m to 55m.

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