By the end of this year, crop sprayers sold in Australia by agricultural equipment manufacturer Agrifac will incorporate smart weed detection technology from French start-up Bilberry.
Bilberry’s technology will enable farmers to determine, in real time, whether particular crops need weedkiller or not. Its cameras can be mounted on the arms of any make or model of crop sprayer. Meanwhile, an on-board computer recognises weeds from real-time images crops and controls the flow of herbicide via the sprayer.
All information collected ‘in the field’, regarding the presence of weeds and the application of herbicide, is made available to farmers in the form of maps. The goal is to massively reduce the amount of weedkiller needed – potentially by up to 80 percent, Bilberry claims.
This is the first commercial application to emerge from the Smart IoT Application Development (SIOTAD) framework launched in February this year by EIT Digital, part of EU R&D agency EIT (European Institute of Technology).
Farmers down under
As well as the reduction of weedkiller usage, there’s a water conservation aspect to this, too, as Bilberry CEO Guillaume Jourdain has pointed out: “Fighting weeds is a priority for Australian farmers, as these unwanted plants consume the resources of any already dry soil.”
This year, the Australian national winter crop harvest is expected to be 40 percent smaller than last year, according to a report issued last week by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, thanks to drought, high temperatures and a late start to the winter season.
The Bilberry weed detection feature will be marketed to Australian customers as an option on top of the standard Agrifac products – mostly crop sprayers and sugar beet harvesting equipment. Agrifac is headquarters in Steenwijk in the Netherlands and, since 2012, has been part of Groupe Excel Industries, a global spraying giant with revenues of €819 million in its 2016 fiscal year.
Agrifac’s Australian subsidiary, however, was only established in 2014, so is a bit of a start-up itself.
Change of strategy
The deal between Agrifac and Bilberry marks a change of strategy for Bilberry. Jourdain originally intended to sell directly to farmers – but he’s since recognised, he says, that Agrifac’s sales network will help it to reach more customers in less time. By the end of 2018, he reckons, more than 10,000 hectares of Australian land will have been scanned with Bilberry’s technology.
This was originally developed in collaboration with Nokia, which provided the live development and trial environment (Nokia Innovation Platform) that Bilberry used to access the massive computational power needed to train its algorithms.