February 2022

Weed control is an important part of farming. Fallow weeds can hinder crop development if left untreated, using up valuable moisture which is scarce in many agriculture regions of the world. Treatments such as weed killer are expensive, often less effective if not applied at the ideal growth stage of the plant, and tend to be extensive across whole paddocks to ensure that no weeds survive before sowing (precision spraying devices remain large investments for most farmers). Wide area application can be avoided using a new service from D-CAT that affordably highlight weed patches in fallow ground and provide locations / mapped areas detailing where treatment is required. A cost calculator is also supplied along with percentage of the paddock to assist with the spraying decision.

The ability to efficiently manage weeds is extremely important to farmers, especially those growing crops in dry and more arid locations. As climate change continues, retaining mositure in soils is becoming increasingly important and the practice of weed management is likewise growing in importance. Add to that the cost of spraying and recent supply issues that impacted chemicals during the pandemic, and new weed management tools become ever moreattractive.

If left untreated, weeds in the fallow season can severely impact future crop production capacity due to reduced water reserves in the soil. It is estimated that Australian growers alone lose approximately $428M in revenue from weeds during the summer fallow period. Noting that the total cost of fallow herbicide treatments across Australian agriculture is estimated to be $514M annually, the benefits of detecting weeds easily and being aided in the decision making to spray or not spray are compelling.

Typically, when weeds are present in a paddock beyond a certain percentage of total area, most farmers spray herbicide across the whole area as they do not have an accurate weed map and do not know exactly how much of the paddock is covered by weeds. This method is generally inefficient and expensive, but it is a reliable way of making sure that no weeds survive, especially on large farms where looking at individual areas can become highly time-consuming, which would also involve higher costs.

D-CAT has developed a fallow weed detector based on Sentinel-2 imagery. This tool produces accurate maps of weeds locations over even the largest paddocks, and does not highlight other foliage such as trees. Critically, the total percentage of the paddock that has been detected as weed is also reported so that a decision can be made as to the cost/benefit of spraying. A tool is provided to quickly calculate likely cost to spray the weeds and all weed patches are formed into a map that can be used in automatic spraying machinery. Alternatively, farmers may choose to draw their own simpler map that cuts straight lines through the paddock and enables faster application.

In doing so, farmers can to perform precision spraying only in locations with detected weeds. Spraying where needed using the provided weed maps also reduces fuel costs, application volume and time, which at the same time means lowering the carbon footprint of spraying and becoming more sustainable.

As a demonstration of the tool, weed detection was applied to a farm in South Australia in the fallow season. The results below show a Google image of the paddock (left) and a ground truth image taken from the paddock (right). In the middle is the output of our algorithm with weed patches highlighted in green.


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