It’s no surprise to farmers that herbicide use in agriculture has come under increased scrutiny by the general public in recent years. In some countries, glyphosate may soon be banned entirely, which will cause significant adjustments to cropping practices. And even in those regions where there isn’t yet a risk of losing glyphosate, weed resistance to it and other chemicals is a growing problem. It may be necessary to soon re-evaluate how herbicides are applied.
That is exactly what John Deere engineers have been doing. The brand will be adding a new feature to its 2022 model year sprayer line, See and Spray Select, which could help some producers address those problems. See and Spray Select technology will be an available option on 400 and 600 series sprayers for next year. Deere says it’s the start of an effort to provide equipment to the market that takes a new approach to herbicide use.
Rather than spray herbicide out every nozzle equally all the time, See and Spray Select controls all nozzles on the boom individually. Each nozzle only sprays for a moment when sensors detect a weed underneath it. That not only reduces chemical use but can save producers money.
“For this product we’re targeting customers who use chemical fallow as part of their cropping rotation,” says Joel Basinger, go-to-market manager for nutrient applications for John Deere. “This is a chemical fallow only, pre-emergence-type solution. We’re the only OEM sprayer manufacturer to offer a factory-installed, spot-spray and broadcast solution.”
On machines equipped with the See and Spray Select option, the sprayer operator can choose between conventional full-boom spraying and automated spot spraying with just a button push in the cab.
John Deere isn’t the first to introduce this type of spot-spray technology. In 2017, German manufacturer Amazone introduced its UX AmaSpot model on a pull-type sprayer to the European market, which offers a similar targeted spot-spray feature. The Amazone design won a Silver Innovations award at Agritechnica in 2015.
Like the Amazone UX AmaSpot, Deere’s See and Spray Select is designed to recognize new growth in a fallow field and only spray growing plants, so it’s meant as an option for pre-emergence applications or chemical fallow operations. The system can’t differentiate between plant types, so any green growth it detects will get sprayed.
Basinger says the initial target market areas for this system will be drier regions like the western Prairies and others where chem fallow practices are in use to conserve soil moisture. It will likely also be a consideration for growers who still use some tillage, creating a fallow field in the fall ready for spring seeding.
Expensive herbicide mixes more cost-effective
By reducing overall applied volumes, See and Spray Select can make it more cost-effective to use more expensive herbicide mixes to combat weed resistance, says Basinger.
“With See and Spray Select, we’re targeting herbicide resistance. Customers can utilize more complex tank mixes that might have been cost prohibitive in the past. But now they can use these tank mixes and save money. On average, customers on fallow ground can save 77 per cent of chemical cost.”
With the price of ag chemicals today, that can amount to a significant annual savings.
To make the system work, the sprayers have 36 cameras mounted on a 120-foot boom that look for any green plants. The onboard computer processes the camera data and decides whether or not to activate any individual spray nozzle.
“On a 120-foot boom at 12 miles per hour, it’s analyzing a little over 2,000 square feet every second,” Basinger says. “It determines if a green weed is present, activates the nozzle and the herbicide hits the weed. All of this in 200 milliseconds.
“You can lengthen or shorten the amount of time that nozzle comes on from the cab. We also have a documentation map within the cab that’ll show where the See and Spray activated and where it didn’t. You can also get maps to show percentage of acres sprayed and gallons sprayed. So, you can do more analysis and determine how much money you’re saving on these applications.”
The effective field speed when using See and Spray Select is limited to 12 miles per hour (19 kilometres per hour). Dust kicked up by the tires during higher speeds can interfere with the cameras’ abilities to see growing weeds. Lighting conditions are another limiting factor, which means the system can’t be used during dim lighting conditions or at night. In those situations, the operator will have to choose the conventional spraying alternative.
Even though See and Spray Select has limited applications because it’s designed only for use on fallow fields, Deere considers this initial launch to be the start of offering more sophisticated sprayer technology that builds on See and Spray Select with ever-widening applications.
“This is the beginning of the See and Spray journey,” says Basinger. “This is the first one we’re bringing to market.”