Small Robotics, UK based agritech startup, has announced their launch of commercial Per Plant Farming robot services. This season’s pilot trials revealed that it is possible to reduce herbicide applications by approximately 77% and fertilizer applications by 15%. It will be the UK’s first fully autonomous crop-scanning service to be launched this autumn on 50 farms over the 2022-2023 growing season.
The service will optimize existing sprayer equipment using Per Plant Intelligence from SRC’s Tom monitoring robot to reduce costs and inputs while treating only the problematic areas. Depending on weed density and distribution, the service allows farmers to assess weed density information for no-spray decisions and reduce herbicide use by up to 77 percent. Farmers can also estimate crop health and performance to save up to 15% on fertilizer costs while improving crop nutrition. Significant savings seems highly possible.
Tom scans the field, analyzing where each plant is and what it requires to perform optimally. Wilma, the SRC AI Advice Engine, then generates treatment maps to advise farmers on the best course of action. This data is used to inform variable rate fertilizer applications and the application of herbicides via nozzle control and sectional control sprays.
The service development took place on three farms, including the Waitrose Leckford Estate and the Lockerly Estate, owned by the Sainsbury family, during autumn 2021 to 2022 growing season. The trials spanned 118 hectares, yielding 446 million wheat plants and 4.6 million weeds. The six onboard cameras on Tom’s boom provide a ground sample distance of 0.39mm per pixel. This technology has the highest resolution of any crop-scanning technology, allowing Tom to see individual water droplets on leaves and early signs of a disease outbreak.
This season’s weed surveys revealed that there were surprisingly few areas of the field where the density was higher than one weed/m2. With this information, SRC can create heat maps, allowing farmers to treat only problem areas rather than the entire field.
Earlier, Small Robotics employed the dick robot to work with tom and harry robots to kill weeds with electricity.
The service has been fully subscribed for 2022, having first been offered exclusively to SRC’s farmer advisors, with 2023 selling out quickly.
The Tom monitoring robot from SRC scans the crop to identify individual plants and collects plant and weed distribution data to help determine the best treatment path. Tom will precisely geo-locate and analyze data from every plant in the field. Tom can correctly identify all of the wheat plants and broadleaf weeds and count the plants. Tom collects 15,000 images from its cameras per hectare, or 40GB of plant intelligence, at a survey speed of 2.2ha/hr.
Future services will include robotic non-chemical weeding, disease identification, fungicide treatment, sprayer export, soil sampling and insights, and grass weed classification, including blackgrass. SRC will make use of plant density data, along with other metrics, such as biomass assessment, soil insights, physiology, tiller count, growth stage, and weather, to support decisions on when and how much fertilizer to apply and exactly where it is needed, thereby optimizing plant nutrition. Farmers participating in the trials in 2021-2022 believe that having the confidence not to spray prophylactically will provide significant value.
The commercial Per Plant Farming service from SRC will come in “Service Pods.” On 120 ha, pods of up to six local farmers share the use of a Tom robot to create treatment maps, which are then combined with existing sprayer equipment to reduce costs and inputs. Tom will precisely geolocate and analyze data on every plant in the field, which will then be made available to farmers through Wilma, SRC’s AI Advice Engine, which means farmers can test the service on as little as 20ha without investing in expensive machinery.