John Deere’s See & Spray Ultimate cuts chemical use by targeting weeds with precision spraying
Baseball Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler traumatized Major League teams in the 1890s and early 1900s with his hitting philosophy of “hit ’em where they ain’t.”
John Deere’s See & Spray Ultimate tweaks this logic with a “spray ’em where they are” strategy.
This technology builds upon last year’s debut of John Deere’s See & Spray Select system that targets herbicide application solely on weeds on fallow ground. See & Spray Ultimate — which John Deere unveiled this month – steps up precision spraying for corn, soybeans, and cotton planted in 30-inch rows and wider.
Through boom-mounted cameras teamed with an artificial intelligence form called machine learning, See & Spray Ultimate aims herbicides precisely at weeds. The system uses a sensitivity setting based on the weed size to be sprayed. The larger the targeted weed, the larger the target spray zone.
See & Spray Ultimate enables targeted spraying of non-residual herbicide on weeds among corn, soybean, and cotton plants.
Depending on the targeted zone, the spray zone may or may not include crop. Targeting weeds cuts chemical use by two-thirds of that normally used in broadcasting applications that target both crop and weeds, according to John Deere tests. This savings translates into less money spent on chemicals for farmers, John Deere officials add.
The system is rooted in technology Blue River Technology used in lettuce thinning. Its lettuce bot uses plant images in a computer-driven format to identify which plants in real time to remove, spray, and use to verify system performance. Blue River, which John Deere purchased in 2017, then aimed the technology at row crops.
“See and Spray Ultimate will not only change how farmers control weeds, but will also enable them to gain deeper insights into their cropping systems while improving their profitability and their productivity,” says Erik Ehn, director of product management for Blue River Technology. “They also have a new tool to demonstrate environmental stewardship.”
See & Spray Ultimate uses machine learning to enable sprayers to decipher the difference between weeds and crops.
“We’ve taken thousands and thousands of images of different weeds in different crops under different situations such as clear skies, cloudy skies, dark skies, different soils, and varying levels of residue debris,” says Kent Klemme, general manager of See & Spray for Blue River Technology.
Blue River and John Deere data scientists then train the See & Spray Ultimate technology to recognize plants under myriad conditions.
“The system is much as the one used with flash cards to teach a child mathematics,” says Ehn. These images are sorted through algorithms, which involve repetition of one or more mathematical operations. Algorithms are often implemented and solved on computers.
Cameras and processors mounted on the carbon-fiber truss-style boom utilize computer vision and machine learning to detect weeds from crop plants.
John Deere pairs deep learning with its 410R, 412R, and 612R sprayers that traverse fields at 12 mph: 36 boom-mounted cameras spaced a meter apart on the 120-foot sprayer boom scan weeds and crop at a clip of 2,000 square feet per second.
“You can think of it as a video, with many images coming in per second to processing units that use a deep learning model,” says Ehn. “This is what allows it [See & Spray Ultimate] to detect every plant and distinguish between crops and weeds.”
When the unit detects weeds, it turns on the correct nozzle in blink-of-an-eye speed to apply chemical.
“If you see a weed while walking through a field, the system can also see it,” says Klemme.
The carbon-fiber boom adds stability, a crucial factor in precision chemical applications.
“Boom stability and height management ensure images can be collected so the sprayer can deliver on-target applications,” says Kaylene Ballesteros, John Deere product marketing manager.
Images are uploaded to the cloud, from which weed and application maps for future farmer reference can be made.
“It [See & Spray Ultimate] has a camera-to-cloud solution that enables the grower to be able to step in the cab, turn on one button, and run the sprayer,” says Ehn.
See & Spray Ultimate features a split tank with dual-product capability that helps farmers better control weeds and battle herbicide resistance.
System perks include:
- Less chemical used. This not only benefits a farmer’s bottom line but also places less chemical into the environment, says Ehn.
- Less potential for crop injury. “We still use a lot of contact herbicides in cotton and soybeans,” says Jason Norsworthy, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture weeds specialist. “When we use them, we can see considerable crop damage.” Less chemical applied translates into less injury, he adds.
- Reduction in off-target movement. “If we minimize their [postemergence herbicides] use, we’re going to minimize the potential for off-target movement,” says Norsworthy.
- Increased efficiency. “There are only so many days when you can spray in the spring and summer due to weather,” says Klemme. See & Spray Ultimate speeds application, as less chemical used means fewer stops for tendering, he adds.
The targeted spray technology can help farmers reduce their non-residual herbicide use by more than two thirds and maintain a hit rate comparable to traditional spraying.
If you can’t see a weed due to a crop’s canopy or debris in the field or shadows, the machine won’t be able to see it either,” says Klemme.
The technology also doesn’t replace the need for preemergence residual herbicides that stop weeds before they start.
“They still will have tremendous value,” says Norsworthy. Weed seed bank management still remains key, he adds. “The grower who does a good job of managing the [weed] seed bank will see the most value associated with this technology,” he says.
Nor will the technology control weeds that already resist the applied herbicide.
“Switching to See & Spray [Ultimate] does nothing to change the sensitivity of weeds to a herbicide,” he adds.
John Deere is initially aiming See & Spray Ultimate toward farmers in the Mississippi Delta, Texas, and the Midwest. Price has yet to be determined, with Deere officials saying they’re working with local dealers on pricing strategies.
John Deere and Blue River officials say its integrated system is what separates the See & Spray Ultimate technology from others on the market.
“Blue River and John Deere working under one roof is an advantage that this product has to offer,” says Kathleen Sprouse, senior product marketing manager for Blue River Technology.
Dual lines enable two chemicals to be applied that otherwise may have reduced effectiveness due to antagonism a spray tank.
Ever wish you could nix the antagonism that exists between two different herbicides in a spray tank? That’s one of the perks of John Deere’s See & Spray Ultimate system.
Its dual production solution system with split tanks and lines combined into one nozzle body can enable the application of two types of herbicides that would otherwise antagonize each other. Its nozzle body also allows broadcast and targeted applications, as the front nozzle is for broadcasting while the back nozzle is for targeted spraying.
For example, a farmer may apply a synthetic auxin (Group 4) herbicide such as dicamba or 2,4-D choline that targets Palmer amaranth while controlling grasses with a gramaticide (Group 1) herbicide such as clethodim (Select Max). The See & Spray Ultimate system nixes the antagonism that occurs when both chemistries are applied using one spray tank.
“Mixing a gramaticide with a synthetic auxin can cause control of johnsongrass to decrease from 90% control to 40% control, says Jason Norsworthy, University of Arkansas (U of A) division of agriculture weed specialist.
Separate delivery also helps reduce off-target movement through volatility. Studies by U of A, University of Tennessee, and University of Missouri weed scientists show mixing glyphosate and dicamba lowers the pH of a spray solution.
“This increases the risk of volatilization,” says Norsworthy. “By keeping those spray solutions apart, I’m confident we will do a better job minimizing volatilization and keeping those products on target.”
Separate lines also enable a better match to be made between herbicide and nozzle. Glyphosate performs best with a fine to medium droplet size, while dicamba must be applied using a nozzle that produces an extremely coarse or ultra-coarse droplet, he says.