Agricultural - Weeds
In Australia, agricultural businesses occupy approximately 425 million hectares, which represents approximately 55% of Australia’s land area. As a result of Australia’s considerable exposure to agriculture, there is a large and expensive investment of time and money each year in combating weed problems within the primary production arena and within other land holdings within both the public and private sectors.
Globally, across all land use sectors there is an increasing emphasis on ensuring that any activity undertaken on the land, eliminates, or at least, minimises any detrimental effects on the broader ecosystem and this philosophy can and should be applied to the application of herbicides.
Looking just at Australian agricultural businesses, they range from large pastoral holdings occupying millions of hectares to small market gardens and undercover agriculture industries occupying less than 1 hectare, however current estimates put the total value of agricultural production at around $36 billion to Australia’s economy.
Herbicides are still the most widely used form of weed control
Despite the growth in alternative methods of weed control including physical removal, crop rotation strategies, increased seeding rates, genetic modification and mechanical separation, it is generally accepted that herbicides are, and will remain for much of the foreseeable future, the most widely used form of weed control.
Our technology can reduce herbicide use
In dollar value terms, the cost of weeds to Australian agriculture is around $4 billion per annum and it is this sector that the deployment of our technology will most immediately impact upon, via the direct reduction in the volume of herbicide sprayed onto the land as well as a range of anticipated indirect benefits.
These indirect benefits include elevated soil fertility and elevated crops yields however the potentially largest indirect benefit arising from use of our technology would lie with the natural reduction in exposure to herbicides.
There is a concern that exposure to herbicides might be the cause of a range of health problems such as skin rashes, Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer and even death arising, for example, from direct contact with herbicides or indirect exposure typically following inhalation of aerial sprays.
In addition, herbicides, which decompose rapidly in soils through soil microbial decomposition, hydrolysis, or photolysis, can contaminate distant water sources through transportation via surface runoff, resulting in a small rise in cancer risk after exposure to these herbicides, although a final confirmation remains disputed. Recent investigations have shown that the risk of Parkinson’s disease increases with exposure to herbicides. Herbicides also have negative impacts on bird populations due to the decline in abundance of species for food and vegetation on which birds rely. In Australia, perennial damage to the Great Barrier Reef, is, in large part attributed to elevated herbicide application rates that are then subject to runoff.
Other Commercial Applications
Because the Group’s technology is based on the analysis of reflectance spectra (colour) combined with images providing information about shape, several agricultural applications other than the discrimination of weeds from crop, in real time, become apparent.
Precise fertiliser application
Plants, and more specifically plant leaves, frequently develop colour-based characteristics because of nutrient deficiencies in the soil they are growing in. Our technology could be immediately adapted to analyse and identify nutrient deficiencies at a plant by plant level within an agricultural environment with immediate consequences to the application of fertilisers – that is, our technology could be the lead technology that allows for precise fertiliser application tailored to optimise soil in which individual plants are growing.
Spectral reflectance allows for the analysis of parts of the spectrum that are outside the range of light visible to humans. Both water levels and protein levels in cereal crops are important indicators as to the value of a grain crop. Our technology has the ability to identify and measure these variables, so a potential use for the technology would be for a grain-handler to deploy the technology to interrogate and classify varying grain grades based on objective criteria, or at a farmer level, allow for the sorting of grain, based on quality, as it is harvested.
Reduce herbicide resistance
Another immediate use for Group’s technology is the spraying of all vegetative matter near railway lines. It is generally accepted that the constant and continued spraying of plants growing with a few metres of a railway lines (for safety reasons because left unchecked the plants can destabilise the ballast material that holds the lines) is a major cause of herbicide resistance in weeds. This spraying is currently undertaken manually, but with our technology it can be automated. Further, when linked to a GPS system, a precise record of plant location and herbicide application can be maintained, such that in a subsequent spray pass, if a plant is detected at an identical location as mapped previously, a different herbicide can be sprayed to the one used previously. In this way, future herbicide resistance can be minimised.
The maintenance of open grassland in suburban parks and the elimination of weeds from pavements to airport runways are all potential areas of operation for our technology.
The perfect lawn
Ultimately, our technology could be seen mounted on the front of a suburban lawn mower with a small spray kit mounted on the rear of the mower, such that as the lawn is mown, individual weeds within the overall lawn are detected and killed as the lawn is mown.