From fiction to field

KWS is testing robotic systems for mechanical weed control in sugar beet

They’re called FarmDroid, farming revolution and ecoRobotix – and even though their names sound like something out of Star Wars, science fiction and futurology, their task is down to earth: The digital robotic systems are intended to remove weeds on sugarbeet fields – as precisely and as quickly as possible.

KWS launched its “Future Live – Robotic Weeding in the Field” project around three years ago to test different robotic systems for weed control. “That's because weed control is the main cost factor in sugarbeet cultivation," says Stefan Meldau, Project Manager Business Development Sugarbeet, who manages the project at KWS.

Until now, over 90 percent of sugarbeet areas in Europe have been treated entirely with herbicides. However, it’s not possible to predict how long these agents will still be permitted. The European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy envisages cutting the use of pesticides in half by 2030. “We therefore need long-term alternatives and a new, effective and eco-friendly way of controlling weeds,” says Stefan Meldau.

The series of tests with the various robot systems is being carried out as part of FarmerSpace. The experimental field for digital crop protection, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food, provides a trial platform for stakeholders from practical agriculture.

This also includes the upstream sector, with research, consulting and industry. The FarmerSpace project partners are: The Department of Agricultural Engineering at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, the Lower Saxony Chamber of Agriculture, the Fraunhofer IOSB and the Institute for Sugarbeet Research.

In addition, together with the manufacturers of other systems for precision weed control, KWS is conducting operations with farmers in several countries. The data gathered on the field will allow the objective assessment of potential uses in the future. The analyses focus, among other things, on the number of weeds and sugarbeet before and after the use of different systems, as well as the economic efficiency of the systems.

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