SprayBot agri-tech project gets greenlight

Written by: Andrew Wade | Published:
(Credit: SRC)

A new project to investigate the precision application of farming pesticides and fungicides has been backed by Innovate UK.

SprayBot is a collaboration led Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) in partnership with Newcastle University, Small Robot Company and Fotenix. The three-year study will see early disease detection techniques such as imaging and spore sensors combined with robotic machinery in an effort to improve the application of fungicides and biopesticides, with an overall aim of reducing the use of farming chemicals.

“Plant protection products remain an important input for growers, ensuring they can reliably produce crops to feed the world’s rapidly expanding population,” said Richard Glass, sector lead at CHAP.

“But their risk-based cautionary use and application could be improved, helping promote the sector’s sustainability and environmental credentials, whilst helping protect the future of the effective chemistry that remains. Thanks to significant advances within the world of agri-tech, it’s now possible to use targeted ‘variable rate’ applications of other inputs such as nutrition.

“SprayBot aims to investigate a system that can do the same for fungicides and biopesticides - detecting and mapping crop disease and then applying product at a variable rate to small areas of the crop. In the future, this could also extend to an individual plant or even leaf.”

Project partner Small Robot Company (SRC) has in recent years developed a suite of agri-tech solutions to tackle crop monitoring, weed control and planting on a precision level using a combination of farm robots and artificial intelligence. The company's 'Dick' weed-spraying prototype robot will be adapted for the SprayBot project. According to SRC co-founder Sam Watson Jones, the ability to farm at a per-plant level could have huge benefits for the agricultural sector, both in terms of crop output and environmental impact.

"Microspraying could be game-changing for the industry,” he said. “Pressure is increasing from regulators, leaving farmers short of options. SprayBot could enable a new generation of spot treatment chemicals, reduce costs, and significantly reduce the impact on biodiversity.

"Up to 95 per cent of chemicals are wasted in the current farming system. Unfortunately, if you treat the whole field the same, waste is inevitable. Robotic precision application technology will be both economically and environmentally sustainable. The best of both worlds."

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