Using new technology to chip away at weeds

image of weed chipper

A new mechanical weeding machine that is attracting keen interest from grain growers will be one of the innovations discussed at the Grains Research and Development Corporation’s (GRDC) Grains Research Update in Goondiwindi next week.

The prototype was developed by agricultural engineers and researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the University of Sydney, with GRDC investment.

Specialist weed researcher Michael Walsh from the University of Sydney was involved in the development of the machine and will present information about its role in targeted tillage on day one (March 5) of the Goondiwindi Update.

The machine has been designed using a cultivator bar where tynes are raised above the ground in a standby position, ready to chip the weeds out of the ground the moment they are detected with weed-sensing technology.

This simple yet groundbreaking technology will allow growers to control weeds in summer and winter fallows with greater flexibility for use in situations that restrict the use of herbicide application, such as wind, heat, surface temperature inversions and herbicide resistance.

“Its ability to handle a vast range of weeds, at varying growth stages, is likely to reduce the number of ‘passes’ required to manage fallow weeds, compared with current herbicide practices,” said UWA School of Engineering agricultural engineer Andrew Guzzomi.

“This will help to mitigate its slower travel speed and narrower coverage, when compared with spray equipment,” Dr Guzzomi said.

“Another benefit is that the mechanical weeding machine’s periodic tilling action, that is appropriate for use in low-density weed population situations, will allow it to be coupled to low horsepower tractors.”

Dr Guzzomi said the ‘rapid response’ tyne system was designed to chip out weeds at densities of one plant per 10 square metres, while travelling at 10 kilometres per hour.

University of Sydney director of weed research Michael Walsh said the machine had effectively killed summer and winter annual weeds that had been targeted in field testing.

“It is highly effective on both broadleaf and grass weeds, and soil disturbance is potentially low,” Dr Walsh said.

“With a significantly reduced need for follow-up herbicide use, the system is an efficient tactic suitable for inclusion in an integrated weed management system.”

The efficacy of the technology relies on accurate weed detection, with optical detection systems incorporated into the six-metre prototype.

In a bid to allow the technology to be made commercially available to growers, the project is moving into commercialisation.

image fo Andrew Guzzomi

Day one topics at Goondiwindi Update include: the latest chickpea harvest and desiccation timing; the physiology and genetics of cold temperatures in chickpeas; chaff tramlining for weed seeds; residual herbicides and sowthistle; targeted tillage; do new long season barley varieties fit in the north; the barley stem rust outbreak on the Darling Downs in 2019; and the latest on crown rot.

Day two topics include; the helicoverpa resistance management strategy; how small changes in management can impact profitability; Professor Neal Menzies on how subsoil constraints impact crops; using EM38 at the crop lower limit to identify constraints and influence nutrient management; future farming technologies leading to automation; cover crop research to improve water use efficiency; tactical decisions on crop sequencing; and the impact of crop sequence on soil water and profit.

With the theme of ‘Driving profit through research’, the Update will be attended by hundreds of agronomists, consultants, researchers, growers and other grains industry personnel.

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