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Scottish company develops precision farming tool to tackle grassland weeds

The Courier

By Gemma MackieJuly 29 2021, 6.00am

The SKAi technology in action.
The SKAi technology in action.

A Scottish company has developed a precision farming tool to tackle weeds in grassland.

SoilEssentials, based near Brechin, has worked with academics and agronomists to develop a way of using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to overcome the ‘green-on-green’ challenge.

Green-on-green refers to the difficulty faced by farmers in using precision farming technology to guide spray applications of green weeds in a green crop.

SoilEssentials – together with Deimos Space UK, University of the West of England and Scottish Agronomy Ltd – has developed a precision farming system to tackle green weeds in green crops.

The system named SKAi – the SoilEssentials KORE Artificial Intelligence platform – uses AI components which can be trained to recognise broad-leaved weeds growing in grass crops and then take control of a crop sprayer to apply targeted weed control sprays to the grassland.

“Green-on-green species recognition is probably the biggest challenge we must overcome if farmers are to benefit from the efficiencies of automated targeted weed control in the future,” said Dr Gregor Welsh from SoilEssentials

“I am delighted to report on the progress our SKAi project has made towards overcoming this challenge. We are now able to train SKAi to target weeds in grass fields and automate the sprayer control via our machine mounted hardware.”

Real-time technology

He said the SKAi technology works in real-time and the on-board AI is set up to constantly scan the vegetation to identify and selectively treat the weeds as the spray boom passes over.

“Trials of the system are showing high levels of success in the spraying of docks in grass fields and we are confident that our partnership will be able to progress SKAi until it can recognise and differentiate between a wide range of weed and cash crop species,” added Dr Welsh.

SoilEssentials hardware director, Graham Ralston, said there was scope to develop the technology for use in the wider farming industry.

He said: “There are many situations where blanket herbicide application across a whole field is undesirable – I’m thinking of broad leaf weed control in swards containing clover, for example.

“Ultimately, our challenge is to refine the technology until targeted control can be achieved even in what would appear to be difficult scenarios – for example, blackgrass in wheat crops. And, of course we must also make sure that the system makes affordable economic sense versus existing spray application methods.”


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