The plant protection sector will have to change in the future
Plant protection is an important part of agriculture for securing high yields and optimum quality. Due to the increasing world population, both factors play an enormous role in securing food supply. However, the chemical plant protection sector is also facing a big challenge in future. On the one hand there is the problem of resistance and on the other side there is an increasing amount of legal regulation.
The focus is once again on integrated agriculture
From an agricultural point of view, there is no clear boundary between eco-agriculture and conventional agriculture. The transitions between the two are already fluid. Conventional agriculture will, once again, start to focus more on "integrated crop production". From this perspective, the future of plant protection will consist of a combination of measures. These include the method of cultivation, sowing, variety selection, crop rotation, cultivation of catch crops, undersown crops, etc.
For example, even greater importance will be placed on shallow soil tillage directly after harvesting, in order to maximise the emergence rate of volunteer grain and weeds. In addition, the chopping-up of straw and stubble and the resulting accelerated decomposition process will be an important soil tillage task. Suitable preliminary tools, such as straw harrows and knife rollers, in the compact disc harrows will be used for initial stubble cultivation to accomplish this. This will also introduce an additional shallow soil tillage step for mechanical weeding between stubble cultivation and primary soil tillage. Primary soil tillage will become more intensive and it is even possible that ploughs will be increasingly used under certain conditions.
When sowing, optimum sowing conditions and precise seed metering and placement will play an important role in promoting seedling development. Narrower row spacing for faster closure of the rows and targeted undersowing will also play an important role in preventing the growth of weeds. Another approach is to increase row spacing to permit mechanical weeding between the rows. The hoeing of grain is definitely a growing trend, not just in organic farming.
Plant breeding is also extremely important for successful crop production. Cultivation requires extremely healthy varieties which have a rapid seedling development. Consistent yields and quality assurance rate higher than achieving absolute maximum yields.
Future technical solutions for plant protection
Direct plant protection measures will always include a mixture of mechanical and chemical plant protection, depending on the application and the crops, with mechanical weeding gaining increasing importance due to very accurate camera and control technology and the associated output increases. Thanks to camera technology, driving speeds of up to 15 km/h are now perfectly possible. Even row spacing as dense as 12.5 cm can be detected by the camera.
In addition to control between the rows, mechanical weed control within the rows is also important. In this respect, it must be possible to adjust the aggressiveness of the tool, e.g. a finger hoe, to the growth stage of the row crops, for example, by changing the angle of attack. The hydraulic single-row parallelogram unit ensures minimum damage to the crop, even in wedge-shaped fields and steeply angled headlands.
The increasing importance of the hoe in the intelligent plant protection sector has motivated AMAZONE to adopt Schmotzer hoe technology and to benefit from their many years of experience in mechanical plant protection.
The combination of hoe and band spraying facilitates a clean crop while saving 40 to 60 % of plant protection agents applied. Band spraying can be performed in combination with the hoe in a single pass or as the second step in a two-step process using the UX trailed sprayer and the AmaSelect Row nozzle control, which makes more sense with respect to the optimum application dates in many cases. At this point, the competences of Schmotzer and AMAZONE are perfectly combined.
In addition to band spraying, hoeing can be combined with fertiliser application or undersowing. The Schmotzer hoes can also be equipped with the GreenDrill catch crop seeder box for this purpose.
The advantages of hoeing
In addition to mechanical weed control, the associated savings of plant protection agents and the option of successfully fighting even resistant weeds, hoeing offers even more benefits. Hoeing can break the encrustations of the soil, which promotes ventilation of the soil and therefore root growth. Opening of the soil also significantly improves the ability to absorb water. And on the other hand, it also breaks the capillary water draw and thus reduces the evaporation of water from the soil. The worked soil warms up faster and thus promotes early development of a spring crop.
From area treatment to individual plant treatment
Traditional chemical plant protection will also be of greater importance in future. The demand for precision down to single-plant treatment will increase. AMAZONE, for example, offers a system including the AmaSwitch or AmaSelect electrical single nozzle control in combination with the GPS-Switch automatic nozzle switch-off, which can save, on average, between 8 to 10 % of plant protection agent by targeted switching off at the headland and on wedge-shaped fields. Additional increases in the level of sophistication for the AmaSelect single nozzle control, introduced at Agritechnica, include the functions AmaSelect CurveControl, AmaSelect Row and AmaSelect Spot. These can help to improve accuracy and save on plant protection agents.
In order to keep the application rate as constant as possible across the whole of the boom width when driving round bends, AMAZONE now offers the AmaSelect CurveControl function for the AmaSelect nozzle control. This system determines the curve radius using sensors and, thanks to the ability to change the nozzles across the boom fully automatically, also ensures considerably more even application rates during cornering. The application rates can be adjusted independently of the part-width section control, since the AmaSelect individually controls each nozzle body at a part-width section distance of 50 cm.
AmaSelect Row enables AMAZONE to offer the possibility of switching from full area application to row-based band spraying remotely via the terminal for all machines with the electric AmaSelect nozzle body. Row-specific band spraying makes it possible to reduce the consumption of plant protection agents by up to 65 %. This requires special SpotFan 40-03 nozzles with a spraying angle of just 40°. These special nozzles work without overlap and apply 100 % of the plant protection agent across the whole width of the spray cone. Maintaining the height above the target is of particular importance for band spraying. The band gets wider if the distance between the nozzle and the target surface is too large. It becomes narrower if the distance is too small. A combination of the AmaSelect nozzle body with the active ContourControl boom guidance can fully maximise the advantages here.
To reduce the use of crop protection agents, AMAZONE offers the AmaSelect Spot nozzle control system with DroneLink, a part-area, site-specific weed control system based on highly accurate drone photographs. The compilation of high-resolution maps of weed distribution in fields is the core skill of DroneWerkers in the Netherlands. For this purpose, the area is first surveyed with a drone equipped with a special RGB camera. The photos are then combined to form a complete map with the help of the special DroneLink software and then evaluated and converted to an application map using artificial intelligence. A sprayer can then be used to selectively treat the weeds with the aid of this map. Only the areas with weeds are sprayed. The ascertained treatment areas are extended by a 1m wide safety zone to ensure reliable treatment. Depending on the weed cover, the use of plant protection agents can be reduced by up to 80%.
While Amaselect Spot is an offline version of the Spot application, the UX AmaSpot has a sensor/nozzle system which can be used to distinguish weeds from soil during the spraying process, and to treat individual weed plants in a targeted manner. Whilst the UX Amaspot can only distinguish green plants from brown soil, the SmartSprayer joint project being undertaken by Bosch, xarvioTM and AMAZONE will enable weeds to be detected in row crops automatically in real time as well as the provision of direct individual plant treatment based on the damage threshold principle. Since the herbicide is only sprayed where it is needed, according to the damage threshold principle, savings of between 20 and 60% are possible. In contrast to the UX Amaspot, the SmartSprayer is equipped with "green in green" detection, i.e. weed detection within the crop.
In the longer term, some of the mechanical and chemical plant protection activities may also be performed by field robots, as the Bonirob project demonstrates so well.
To sum up, it is clear that plant protection will change in the future. Compliance with the rules of "integrated crop management" will once again play an increasing role. Optimum plant protection begins with the first soil tillage after harvesting and is strongly influenced by the cultivation method. In addition to chemical weed control, mechanical weed control and the combination of the two will play an enormous role. Increasing precision in crop protection technology is already making it possible to save considerable amounts of plant protection agents. The technology will develop more and more towards individual plant treatment, where initial solutions are already available today. Although this precise technology will certainly become more complex and expensive, it will also be economical in the future owing to the large savings potential.