Greeneye Technology’s precision spraying differentiates crops, weeds, and weed species
Greeneye Technology is using artificial intelligence to enable precision spraying technology that can not only distinguish between crops and weeds, but also classify weeds down to the species level.
Long-term, precision spraying technology also could switch the way agricultural chemicals are sold from a volume basis to one based on outcomes, such as a weed-free field, Bocher says.
Several companies have announced precision spraying and initiatives in 2021. Officials for John Deere say its See & Spray Select technology can help farmers reduce their nonresidual, preemergence herbicide use by 77% on average by targeting and spraying only weeds on fallow ground.
Greeneye Technology aims its precision spraying technology toward existing sprayers.
“From the farmer’s perspective, we’re not asking them to buy a brand-new machine in order to access this technology,” says Bocher. “We can retrofit existing machinery. We can work with John Deere, with Hagie, with Case [IH], all of them.”
Greeneye’s technology also features a dual spraying system with two lines of nozzles along the spray boom. This enables farmers to spray residual and non-residual herbicides separately or simultaneously, Bocher says.
Bocher says Greeneye’s technology permits in-season spraying to occur, and differentiates weeds from crop in “green-on-green” spraying. It’s crucial, though, that sufficient numbers of weeds are detected by precision systems, he says.
“In many cases, 90% [with precision spraying] is simply not good enough because that indicates 10% of the weeds are not detected,” Bocher says. “That’s a risk a lot of farmers just aren’t willing to take.”
Greeneye’s system detects 95.7% of weeds in multiple green-on-green situations from all spraying applications, he says. The Greeneye system controlled 95% of weeds in company trials, slightly below the broadcast efficacy rate of 97%, says Bocher.
“When you compare the same chemistry [being applied], broadcast spraying efficacy and our precision [spraying] efficacy is almost identical,” he says. This is achieved with an average herbicide savings rate of 78.45% when the Greeneye system is compared to standard broadcast spraying, says Bocher. Bocher adds that precision spraying can be carried out at the same travel speed as broadcast spraying – 20 kilometers per hour (12.4 miles per hour) – ensuring no reduction in productivity for farmers.
Greeneye has launched its first commercial project with Yevulei Gesher, one of the largest farming operations in Israel. In early 2022, Greeneye will have a limited launch in the United States, where it is contracted to work with selected corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest. Greeneye will also feature the technology at multiple field days during and after the growing season. Plans are for a full commercial rollout across the United States in 2023.
Differentiation Between Weed Species
The technology drills down further, as artificial intelligence enables differentiation according to weed species. This will enable farmers to better match herbicides with the weed types in their fields, Bocher says.
“The challenge with identifying plants is that they change over time,” Bocher adds. “As they grow, they have a different appearance compared with when they emerge in the ground.”
To selectively identify weeds, numerous labeled images are required. Greeneye captures images of weeds in the field using cameras mounted onto sprayers and then cross-references them with its proprietary algorithms that Bocher says can differentiate one weed from another during spraying.
Greeneye will offer models for sale or lease. Company officials have not revealed a dollar price for the system, but say it will provide a return on investment from six to 18 months. “This depends on how much the farmer currently spends on herbicides,” Bocher says.
Bocher says the system can stand up to dust, humidity, and a host of other environmental conditions that occur during spraying. “Our background is in the military, so a lot of these components, although used in different settings, have been used in rough [environmental] conditions.”
Conventional wisdom dictates that precision spraying technology may threaten chemical sales of agricultural chemical companies. It may, but chemical companies will still recover value via outcome-based models, Bocher says.
“What’s interesting to see is that those companies understand at the highest levels that volume reduction is inevitable,” he says. “There are huge forces ranging from regulations to [herbicide] resistance, to the advancement of technology that make this change inevitable,” he says.
He notes Syngenta Group Ventures is an investor in Greeneye. He adds BASF is also working with Bosch and others to develop a precision spraying system. These moves are occurring even though the technology would use less herbicide sold by such firms.
“The volume-based model has been the model over the past few decades in the industry, to sell as much [product] as you can,” says Bocher. He expects this to shift to an outcome-based model, where a product is sold by a certain outcome, such as a weed-free field or certain yield goal.
Outcome-based pricing is a business model that Bayer has been testing. Bob Reiter, who heads research and development (R&D) for Bayer, gave a briefing to the agricultural media last March where he acknowledged that by selling outcomes rather than volume, the amount of product used is less.
“In one respect, people might look at it as a threat,” says Reiter. “I actually look at it as an opportunity for us to be able to work with those equipment providers.”
These spraying technologies also work in tandem with low-volume chemical formulations Bayer is developing, he adds.
Greeneye’s technology also has promise to expand its capabilities for precisions applications of fungicides, insecticides, and micronutrients, Bocher adds. Sprayers with cameras and other data collection tools can also collect huge amounts of information that can be used to make better agronomic decisions, Bocher says.
“The value doesn’t end with how much money farmers can save on herbicides,” Bocher says. “There’s a much greater potential for this technology in turning these machines [sprayers] into smart machines and not just reducing herbicide [volume] but also improving efficacy and productivity and collecting intelligence and translating it into valuable insights for farmers and other stakeholders.”