Machine-Guided Cultivation May Reduce Vegetable Growers’ Costs

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Can a computerized machine tend broccoli and lettuce in the fields? With automated cultivation assisting in the battle against weeds, vegetable growers may be able to reduce costs of herbicide and labor without diminishing the crop yield. A new study in Weed Technology examines the economic effectiveness of machine-vision guidance systems that help cultivators accurately till the soil between rows of vegetable crops.

Can a computerized machine tend broccoli and lettuce in the fields? With automated cultivation assisting in the battle against weeds, vegetable growers may be able to reduce costs of herbicide and labor without diminishing the crop yield. A new study in Weed Technology examines the economic effectiveness of machine-vision guidance systems that help cultivators accurately till the soil between rows of vegetable crops.

Evaluation and Economics of a Machine-Vision Guided Cultivation Program in Broccoli and Lettuce appears in the January–March 2010 issue of the journal Weed Technology. Hand-harvested crops such as broccoli and lettuce are easily threatened by weeds. Uncontrolled weeds can result in lower yields, reduced quality, and decreased harvest efficiency.

The job of cultivating between delicate rows of vegetable plants can be done more precisely and faster with machine guidance. A computer processes 25 digital photos of a crop row to determine the centerline. Previous studies have shown higher rates of error in human-guided cultivation.

The current study timed how long it takes a laborer to hand-pick weeds versus machine cultivation. It also tested whether smaller amounts of herbicide or none at all could be applied to the crop with the use of machine cultivation. Reducing the use of herbicides would have economic and environmental benefits.

The many variables at play produced mixed results. Herbicides proved the most effective method against weeds. But with the heaviest use of herbicide tested, the lettuce yield was not improved—the herbicide also affected the crop’s growth. In rainy weather, when both hand weeding and machine weeding are difficult, herbicides again provided the best weed deterrent. In dryer seasons, machine cultivation was more effective than hand weeding.

In California and Arizona, lettuce and broccoli are grown year-round, and cultivation is an important part of the process. More accurate and timely cultivation may be the greatest benefit that machine-guided cultivation has to offer.

The full text of this article, Evaluation and Economics of a Machine-Vision Guided Cultivation Program in Broccoli and Lettuce, Weed Technology, Vol. 24, No. 1, January-March 2010 is available at allenpress.com/pdf/wete-24-01-33-38.pdf

About Weed Technology
Weed Technology presents (1) original research on weed/crop management systems, herbicides, weed resistance to herbicides, and weed biology; (2) reports of new weed problems, weed-related surveys, and new technologies for weed management; and (3) special articles emphasizing technology transfer to improve weed control. The journal is a publication of the Weed Science Society of America. To learn more about the society, please visit: wssa.net.

Media Contact:
Robin Barker
Allen Press, Inc.
800/627-0326 ext. 410
rbarker(at)allenpress(dot)com

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