Before, farmers had no choice but to spray everything, both healthy crops and weeds, in what was an incredibly wasteful process.
“Farmers go to their fields with their machines and spray the entire area evenly all the time, season after season, field after field, even if the presence of weeds is only 10 percent,” explained Nadav Bocher, CEO of Greeneye Technologies.
The Israeli agritech startup has come up with a new approach to weed control. “We want to change the wasteful practice to one of precision spraying, where you spray only where you need it,” Bocher said.
How do you differentiate between weeds to be eradicated and crops that should not be sprayed with unnecessary chemicals? And how do you do it in real time? The answer is artificial intelligence: Greeneye’s software turns ordinary machines into “intelligent sprayers.”
Cameras installed on the “pen,” which is the 120-foot-long arm attached to the sprayer that spreads the herbicide, capture data from across the field. Greeneye algorithms identify where weeds are, detect whether crops are healthy or not, whether there is disease in the field, whether crops are receiving the micronutrients they need, or whether the correct fertilizers are being used
The company’s cameras shoot at 40 frames per second, allowing the sprayer to travel at its normal top speed (about 20 kilometers per hour).
Bocher explained that the AI-enabled precision spray system can detect weeds with an accuracy of 95.7 percent.
“Farmers need the assurance that 95 percent of the weeds will be caught and sprayed. If the camera didn’t detect them or the nozzle didn’t spray them, the price farmers will have to pay will be too high,” he said.
Greeneye has a database of millions of images of many different fields, crops, and growing regions. The artificial intelligence compares what it sees with what it has already learned about specific crops.
In that vein, Greeneye hopes to produce accurate “weed maps” to help farmers choose the right crop protection products and use less of them.
Smart sprayers make sure that only weeds get a dose of herbicide.
This is good for the health of plants (and the humans who consume them) as well as reducing water and soil pollution from pesticide runoff.
In addition, it is a solution to prevent the evolution of crops resistant to herbicides and, above all, for the farmer’s funds, that if he manages to spray up to 90 percent less herbicide, he can save a lot of time, especially in soybeans and corn, where profit margins are extremely low.
Bocher estimated that farmers can reduce their costs by more than 50 percent.
For farmers, this represents a change of rules. Worldwide, the industry spends some $30 billion a year on herbicides, yet weeds remain a perennial problem.
In the US alone, “weeds” are estimated to cost farmers $33 billion a year in lost crop production.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain challenges, the price of herbicides has skyrocketed.
Glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, is up 300 percent, if it can be found.
Green on green
Distinguishing weeds from crops is a spraying process known as “green on green”. Current equipment cannot do that and farmers tend to spray before any crop has been planted to catch weeds early on.
Greeneye’s goal is to change the equation and allow spraying multiple times in a season. The company’s “dual spray” feature allows farmers to dispense herbicides along with other chemicals, such as fertilizers, fungicides and micronutrients. The technology works with any brand of spray vehicle.
Why would a herbicide manufacturer like Syngenta choose to back a company that would mean it would sell less of its main product?
It’s that farmers are facing an increasingly stringent regulatory landscape, Bocher said.
An example: by 2030 the European Union has the objective of reducing the use of pesticides by half by 2030.
“The chemical manufacturing industry is undergoing major disruption. Today it is understood that there is no other option than to reinvent oneself”, said Bocher.
USA, the first to adopt changes
Bocher will soon be moving to the US Midwest, where Greeneye has launched an “early adopter” program with dozens of customers in Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois starting to use the Greeneye system in the coming months.
“Our early adopter initiative was oversubscribed in less than a week,” says Bocher. Greeneye plans to expand across North America in 2023.
Currently, the company focuses on two of the world’s largest crops, soybeans and corn (with 70 million hectares planted in the US), although Bocher said the company will expand to other plants, such as cotton, in the future. and wheat.
Greeneye’s software and hardware suite is primarily suitable for larger Western farms. In smaller or specialized orchards, the herbicide is dispensed manually rather than by vehicle.
Some of these farms may use approaches such as mechanical, laser, or electrical weeding.
“It will be a few years before we can present our technology in India and similar countries,” Bocher said.
Pricing is not yet available, but Bocher said he expects Greeneye to be cheaper than competing systems from companies like Weed-it, Ecrobotix and Bilberry.
In addition, clients will have the possibility to buy the system directly or to subscribe and pay a fixed rate per hectare.
For Bocher, orchards can see a return on their investment (ROI) in six to 18 months. “The bigger the farm, the faster the ROI because the impact is bigger,” he said. That’s a big improvement over standard farm machinery, where the ROI benchmark is closer to five years. Greeneye has 25 employees in three offices in Tel Aviv and Bethlehem HaGlilit, where the machinery is tested. Can Greeneye help with climate change? Bocher says yes.
“When a farmer tills the land to control weeds and provide better conditions for crops, a lot of carbon escapes. It is a massive path of emission of that gas. Thus, we help farmers reduce their dependence on tillage,” he said.
And he added: “Herbicides are not our enemy. They have allowed us to feed the planet but we need to be more efficient in the way we do it so that we do not spray where it is not necessary, ”he concluded.