How much longer will glyphosate be a viable weed control option for producers? The question itself seems a bit jarring, but the loss of this herbicide could eventually affect production methods globally. Consumer mistrust and weed resistance could eventually spell the end for it.
If so, what then?
The combination of magnetism and electricity creates the maximum amount of heat with the minimum amount of electricity to provide steam on demand.
Saskatchewan producer Ron Gleim has developed a machine that could prove to be at least a partial answer in a post-glyphosate world — the X-Steam-inator. And even if that chemical remains on the market for years to come, the X-Steam-inator may provide a better, more cost-efficient option for a variety of jobs in agriculture and beyond.
The X-Steam-inator uses steam to kill weeds with virtually no adverse effects on the environment.
“There’s already some use of steam to control weeds,” explains Kevin Hursh, communications co-ordinator for X-Steam-inator. “But they’re using boiler units that take a tremendous amount of energy, and it’s very slow. The difference with this is applying the principles of induction electricity to steam production. Nobody has seemed to have ever done that, at least not for this application. The combination of magnetism and electricity creates the maximum amount of heat with minimum amount of electricity. That’s what this can accomplish with induction electricity — and it’s steam on demand, using a small amount of water at a time that instantly becomes steam.
“We’ll be able to control the temperature the steam is being imparted at and also how moisture laden that steam is, which may make a difference in how much control of vegetation you can get.”
The X-Steam-inator has been under development for a while and was first shown to the public in 2019 at farm shows, including Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina. But it isn’t market-ready yet. To help the fledgling organization make the jump from concept to commercial production, Saskatchewan-based Honey Bee Manufacturing recently announced it will partner with the X-Steam-inator group to help further develop the final machine design.
“We have a working prototype,” says Hursh. “What we still need to do, and what Honey Bee will be tasked with, is (developing) a ground-following boom of various widths and the trailer to hold all the component parts. What’s the best way to mount them on a trailer so you can still get at them and it makes the most sense? They’re going to help with that as well.”
Inventing a product is one thing, but setting up a commercial manufacturing centre is something else, and the company doesn’t see it as one worth doing when it’s possible to partner with another firm that is already up to speed on that. So, Honey Bee will take on the manufacturing duties for X-Steam-inator.
“The plan all along was not to set up our own manufacturing plant,” Hursh adds. “There’s lots of good Prairie farm equipment manufacturers and many of them are in Saskatchewan.”
Prototypes ready for summer 2021
Once the design is finalized, which should happen this winter, the plan is to have several prototypes working in the field next summer to iron out any possible flaws and, perhaps more importantly, to continue to gather data on the use and efficacy of this new concept.
“The plan is to have at least several prototypes available to go out into the field during the growing season to better understand all the technology and what happens with weed control,” Hursh says.
Aside from the nuts and bolts of the machine, there is also the software to develop.
“Over the next few months, we can work on getting the software for the control system,” he adds. “With the use of an iPad, you’ll be able to adjust water flow, steam temperature and saturation and those critical components. You’d have all that available in the cab for adjusting the machine. That isn’t viewed as being technically that difficult, but it takes time and we need to do some work on that.”
Initial focus on smaller units
Initially, the company will focus on smaller-scale designs with booms no wider than 30 feet. But even at that scale, the concept may attract the attention of larger-scale producers who typically use much wider implements — the machine could reduce the demand for logistical support such as supplying large amounts of water to a sprayer. The X-Steam-inator needs only a couple of gallons of water per acre to function.
And it can be used immediately after a frost or in windy conditions that would sideline typical spraying operations.
But there are also other agricultural segments to consider which have different demands that ideally suit smaller machines. And while the initial focus for the company will be on agriculture, there are also other potential markets to explore, such as city park management, for example.
“We’re going to start with relatively small units, 10-, 20- and 30-foot models,” says Hursh. “People might say why are you doing that, it’s way too small. Well, it isn’t too small for a lot of agriculture, especially if you’re doing weed control in row crops, Or it’s not too small for orchards or vineyard use.”
As the machines accumulate field hours there are other possibilities the company wants to collect data on.
“We’d like to think we can use this for crop desiccation,” says Hursh. “But that’s another thing that needs to be explored. Can you terminate some crops at harvest time effectively without denaturing the grain? It would be a very high-value use for the technology.
“What we also don’t know, is it possible to use to control certain pests? For example, is the threshold for killing flea beetles on young plants less? Can you kill them without hurting the plants too much, or even grasshoppers? We don’t know.”
The company expects to be market-ready — at least on a limited production scale — by 2022, assuming things continue to go according to schedule. And it hasn’t been decided yet if the company will direct market or look to sell through dealers.
Says Hursh, “I really believe this is a real game changer within agriculture and beyond.”