A fully autonomous, solar-powered robot capable of precision drilling and weeding has joined the Opico line-up. Offering pesticide-free weed control with zero fuel bills, the FarmDroid is the brainchild of two Danish farmers and takes a really simple approach to how it works.
The FarmDroid uses ultra-accurate GPS to record exactly where it places each seed. Then, on each subsequent weeding pass, it has no need to identify what’s a weed and what’s not – it simply knows where the crop plants should be and works around them, hoe shares running between each row and blades slicing off anything between each crop plant in the row.
This approach means that unlike other similar machines, it doesn’t need to employ banks of high-definition cameras and complex computers to identify and target weeds. It also means the machine can start the weeding process before the crop has emerged because camera recognition is not required.
Its simplicity is just one of a number of features that set the machine apart from anything else on the market.
Being solar-powered, FarmDroid owners don’t have any fuel bills for the machine. Not only does this have a clear impact on the bottom line with today’s increasingly volatile energy markets, it’s also environmentally friendly. In a future where food retailers are progressively looking to be perceived as “green” with carbon audits becoming more and more common, the FarmDroid can help provide one step towards energy self-sufficiency (and herbicide-free crop production).
With in-row and inter-row action, it eliminates weeds both between the rows and between the crop plants. Capable of working right to up within 5mm of each seedling between the rows and 20mm in the row, the FarmDroid’s shares mean it does the complete job so there is no need for hand-rogueing problem weeds like fat-hen (saving about £250/ha).
Weighing just 800kg, the FarmDroid has the lightest footprint possible – good for soil health and the bottom line. Headlands aren’t run down with the result that yields are maintained across the entire cropped area.
In fact, organic growers across northern Europe – and in the UK – have seen some fairly dramatic results when using the FarmDroid. They’re reporting increases in beet yields of 40-60 per cent compared to tractor-hoed crops, and are putting this down to the combination of precise seed placement and intra-row weed control making for uniform crop development.
Combined with the savings in herbicides, fuel, labour and machinery costs (depreciation, maintenance, tyres, capital tie-up, and so on), the financial argument for FarmDroid is a strong one, especially as the purchase price and ongoing running costs are a fraction of those associated with the traditional machinery used to do the job. The current six-row FarmDroid FD20 retails at £59,500 (correct at April 2022), with an additional £4,243 required for an RTK base station. Grant funding is likely to be available to assist with the purchase of this innovative seeding and weeding machine.
“We believe robotics will form the backbone of the next major step in technological development for agriculture,” Opico managing director James Woolway said. “FarmDroid has come up with a unique solution that’s suited to large- and small-scale farming systems. Opico’s distribution network, parts and technical teams are more than capable of backing the product up, so it’s a great fit.
“While it’s early days, we’re coming to the UK market with a product that’s tried and tested with 250 units already working worldwide. The timing couldn’t be better with rising energy costs, labour issues and environmental factors at the forefront of UK farmers’ minds. FarmDroid ticks so many boxes in all these respects.”