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Machine-guided cultivation may reduce vegetable growers’ costs


April 13, 2010
By Fruit & Vegetable

Can a computerized machine tend broccoli and lettuce in the fields?

Can a computerized machine tend broccoli and lettuce in the fields?

With automated cultivation assisting in the battle against weeds, vegetable growers may be able to reduce costs of herbicide and labour without diminishing the crop yield. A new study in Weed Technology examines the economic effectiveness of machine-vision guidance systems that help cultivators accurately till the soil between rows of vegetable crops.

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“Evaluation and Economics of a Machine-Vision Guided Cultivation Program in Broccoli and Lettuce” recently appeared in the January-March 2010 issue of the journal Weed Technology. Hand-harvested crops such as broccoli and lettuce are easily threatened by weeds. Uncontrolled weeds can result in lower yields, reduced quality, and decreased harvest efficiency.

The job of cultivating between delicate rows of vegetable plants can be done more precisely and faster with machine guidance. A computer processes 25 digital photos of a crop row to determine the centreline. Previous studies have shown higher rates of error in human-guided cultivation.

The current study timed how long it takes a labourer to handpick weeds versus machine cultivation. It also tested whether smaller amounts of herbicide or none at all could be applied to the crop with the use of machine cultivation. Reducing the use of herbicides would have economic and environmental benefits.

The many variables at play produced mixed results. Herbicides proved the most effective method against weeds. But with the heaviest use of herbicide tested, the lettuce yield was not improved – the herbicide also affected the crop’s growth. In rainy weather, when both hand weeding and machine weeding are difficult, herbicides again provided the best weed deterrent. In dryer seasons, machine cultivation was more effective than hand weeding.
 


The full text of this article, Evaluation and Economics of a Machine-Vision Guided Cultivation Program in Broccoli and Lettuce,” Weed Technology, Vol. 24, No. 1, January-March 2010 is available at http://www2.allenpress.com/pdf/wete-24-01-33-38.pdf