Herbicides are an unfortunate necessity in the world of agriculture. When you’re growing crops, there will always be pesky herbs, weeds, and other unwanted plants that try to hijack the nutrients from your fertile soil, and for the good of your crops, they must be removed.
Modern herbicides are quite safe and effective – maintaining the ability to target only specific plants, while washing away harmlessly from crops – but there’s always potential for more innovation, and farmers and agriculturalists should be on the lookout for these technologies, as they may give competitive advantages before they’re widely adopted.
In this article, we’ll look at 4 of the most interesting, innovative, and potential game-changing herbicidal technologies that are just now emerging on the market, and give you an idea of where the future of weed control is headed.
1. Automated Sprayers – Both Aerial and Ground-Based – Could Become the Wave of the Future
Automation and mechanization has already had a large influence on the herbicide market, but future technologies could even further improve the ease-of-application and efficacy of herbicides to problem areas.
A study from the University of Reading is taking a deep look into how crop spraying, pesticides, and herbicides are administered to fields, in an attempt to develop a better method. This robot is called the “eyeSpot”, and if commercialized, could represent a huge revolution in how herbicides are used in modern agriculture.
This robot uses highly sensitive cameras and analysis to determine the kind of weeds present, the growth stage, and the appropriate amount of herbicide to eliminate the unwanted weed. Then, it will administer “point and shoot” droplets of herbicides directly to the plant, potentially reducing herbicide waste by up to 95%, and reducing the amount of runoff and contact that herbicides have with your crops.
Aerial drones are also being used to spray crops, specifically to areas found to be in danger via aerial imaging, and this technology also has the potential to increase the effectiveness of herbicide applications – though not as drastically as the eyeBot.
2. Innovative Herbicide Solutions That Can Target Resistant Weeds
Naturally, use and overuse of herbicides has caused some problems – much like antibiotic resistant bacteria, the use of herbicide spawns adaptation in some pesky weeds that reduces the efficacy of current methods by up to 60%. Herbicides are not optional in modern farming and agriculture, however – so we must forge a path forward, and continue to develop new and innovative solutions to herbicide-resistant weeds.
Recently, chemical and pharmaceutical giant Bayer announced a partnership with the Grains Research & Development Corporation combat some of the challenges of farming in Canada. This 5 year, $45M AUD partnership with the Australian research institute is designed to do just that – research modern herbicide-resistant weeds and discover innovative solutions.
Weeds are the number one global cause of crop loss worldwide, and as global weed resistance has increased nearly 60% in the past 15 years, it’s clear that research and development in this area must continue to be supported, and we look forward to seeing the results of this partnership as farmers and agriculturalists continue to innovate towards the future.
3. The Future of Weed Control is… Past Techniques?
That’s right! No matter how complex and sophisticated modern herbicidal techniques get, there’s sometimes no better way to understand the future than by looking at the past.
This is because while, in the past, herbicide alone might have been enough to control weeds, today’s herbicide-resistant strains demand vigorous reaction – similar to the ways that farmers dealt with unwanted weeds decades, or even centuries ago – with a modern twist, of course. This is the takeaway from the Syngenta Media Summit that was held in North Carolina in late 2016.
It is essential now – and likely, forever – that farmers continue to rely on age-old methods of reducing weed growth, including:
- Starting clean on their fields with an effective tillage program or burndown method to minimize emergence – and begin with a pre-emergence pesticide program
- Follow pre-emergence programs with a “two-pass” system – covering your fields with appropriate herbicides post-emergence
- Diversify your herbicides for multiple modes of action against pesky weeds
- Remove weed escapes early to avoid their seeds adding to your seed bank
- Utilize other standard agronomic practices – narrow crop rows, plant population increases, and other practices that increase crop viability, growth, and competitive ability.
Obviously, herbicides and pesticides are only part of the equation – beyond simply spraying your crops often and appropriately, proper steps must be taken to minimize weed growth before it happens – and these techniques are as old as the hills.
So while new varieties of herbicides with promising results are still emerging, it’s important to not lose yourself in the future, and neglect the methods of weed minimization that have served farmers well for decades, if not centuries.
These are just a few of the ways that herbicides and weed-prevention techniques are likely to change in the future – as always, the future is mostly unknown, and the next great innovation could be only minutes – or decades – away.
So look to the future, but don’t ignore the past or the present – it does no good to simply wait for innovation. Crops must be grown, weeds must be killed, and you must continue to develop your own techniques for prevention and elimination of problem weeds, while still looking towards future innovation.