At the 2019 Ag in Motion farm show near Langham, Saskatchewan, Xarvio, a start-up division of chemical giant BASF, had some digital technology to show producers.
“We’re showing several things here at the show,” said Warren Bills, Xarvio’s commercialization and partnerships lead. “One is an app called Xarvio Scouting, and it uses image recognition to identify what species of plant you took a picture of. The picture gets analyzed against our recognition database. So we’ve really improved an automated crop scouting in that way. We can also do leaf diseases and measure leaf damage as a percentage.
“The second app we brought to the show is called Xarvio Field Manager. It takes some of the uncertainty and guesswork out of spraying fungicides, in particular in canola for sclerotinia disease. That decision is one of the harder ones for farmers to make.”
Using the information from field manager, producers can then turn to the company’s Zone Spray feature, which uses satellite maps to turn on and off the boom of the sprayer based on where the disease risk and yield potential is the highest. Bills said the program’s format is compatible with all brands of sprayers and their in-cab controllers.
“You’d need to establish a Xarvio Field Manager account,” he explained. “You can do that on your phone. Then you need to setup your fields and assign the canola variety you’re growing. Once you’ve setup your fields and assigned your crops, it’s fairly automated.
“They’re both freely available to download and setup your accounts. There are no fees for Xarvio Scouting, it’s free to use. With Xarvio Field Manger, it’s also free to use. There is a charge that occurs once you’ve downloaded over 200 acres of maps. You pay $1.50 per acre on the maps you download. It’s changing the way fungicide decision are getting made.”
The Smart Sprayer
But arguably the most notable bit of technology in Xarvio’s stable, and one that is still in the prototype stage, is Smart Sprayer. That plant identification technology used in the scouting app is really at the heart of getting advantages out of the company R&D efforts; and when applied to the sprayer, the system allows it to look under its boom and only open the nozzle when it sees a weed, ignoring the seeded crop plants.
“Basically on the go with the sprayer, it can sense the plant, detect what species it is, and most importantly choose the right active ingredient to best control that plant,” said Bills. We’re in the concept phase right now, but you have the opportunity to have multiple boom lines with multiple nozzles or maybe multiple boom lines out of a single nozzle.
“There are systems out there that are similar in sense and spray. The difference in the concept we’re working on is that we can recognize not just that it’s a green plant, but actually what type of green plant it is. It can differentiate between crops and weeds. And that will allow for in-crop applications.”
Currently, the company is field-testing units in the U.S. and Europe. Bills notes that engineers are looking at a variety of possible impacts on the efficiency of the systems, such as what is the optimal height for the boom, how does dust affect the sensors and lenses, and what affect does vibration have on the process.
“There’s an opportunity to find cost savings, and you can’t argue with that,” he continued. “And, I don’t think you could talk to anybody and say that spraying bare ground is a good use of product. Treating individual plants is what we’re aiming towards. We might not be allowed to blanket a plot in the future.”
The technology is being designed to work with any chemical product from any manufacturer, not just BASF herbicides. Better managing application of all herbicides could help reduce the incidence of resistance and extend the useful life of all products.
“You don’t want to invest in a product and only have it last two years,” he says. “It doesn’t much matter to Xarvio what product is in the tank. We just want that product to be used in the right way.
“Xarvio is a company focused on improving and automating crop production. I think the way we’ve done things (up until now) is not necessarily bad, but we can encourage ourselves do better.”
Bills thinks the Smart Spray system could be commercially available as soon as three years from now.