Machinery

Background

Weed Chipper: mechanical alternative for herbicides

Engineers and researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and the University of Sydney have developed a mechanical weeding machine, that proves to be very effective in weed control in fallow. They hope to have the machine commercially available in the near future.

The machine, dubbed the Weed Chipper, uses specifically designed rapid response tynes, which behave like hoes, coupled with existing commercial sensing technology to detect and chip out weeds.

Tynes are held above the ground in a standby position, ready to chip the weeds out of the ground the moment they are detected.

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The prototypes, in combination with the Weedit sensing technology, proved to be very effective in controlling weeds in summer and winter fallows. - Photos: UWA
The prototypes, in combination with the Weedit sensing technology, proved to be very effective in controlling weeds in summer and winter fallows. - Photos: UWA

Fight against herbicide-resistant weeds

The Weed Chipper is a mechanical alternative for herbicides that helps in the fight against herbicide-resistant weeds. It has been developed with funding support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) in Australia.

The Weed Chipper runs at 10 to 15 kilometres per hour. It can work around the clock in a wide range of environmental conditions.

Minimal soil disturbance

Lead agricultural engineer Dr Andrew Guzzomi from UWA’s School of Engineering points out that the Weed Chipper has the ability to chip out weeds across a wide range of sizes and growth stages with minimal soil disturbance. “The mechanical nature of the device, and its robust build, mean that it is not constrained to narrow growth windows like herbicides”.

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According to Dr Guzzomi there is keen grower interest in the Weed Chipper.
According to Dr Guzzomi there is keen grower interest in the Weed Chipper.

Fine tuning for commercialisation

The developers emphasise the Weed Chipper is well-suited to an automated system across Australia’s broadacre grains industry. The team has been testing several protypes in field trials, evaluating a 6 meter wide pre-commercial rig. This summer the team plans to finish the final trials with a commercial-scale rig, fine tuning the Weed Chipper for commercialisation.

High success rate in trials

Results from previous field trials had a high success rate. “Where it wasn’t quite a 100 percent, there was an issue with the shape of the sweep”, explains Michael Walsh, Associate Professor and Director of Weed Research with the University of Sydney.

“The conventional sweeps we used on our prototypes are designed for fulltime soil cultivation”, Dr Walsh says. “They were not exactly ideal for chipping weeds. We are working on a more suitable sweep design for a chipping operation.”

The prototypes, in combination with the Weedit sensing technology, still proved to be very effective in controlling weeds in summer and winter fallows.

Michael Walsh, University of Sydney:

We have a major herbicide resistance problem in Australia now. It is great that we‘ve now got an option that will control these weeds

According to Dr Walsh the Weed Chipper can take the pressure off herbicides. “We have a major herbicide resistance problem in Australia now. In the northern grain production region of New South Wales and Queensland there are numerous fallow weed species that are glyphosate resistant. It is great that we‘ve now got an option that will control these weeds.”

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The developers received valuable grower feedback on the Weed Chipper last Australian summer during a series of demonstrations across the northern grains region. According to Dr Guzzomi growers have shown a keen interest in the technology.

The Weed Chipper will be commercially available in Australia in the near future. The initial focus will be on fallow weed control in the grain production regions, particularly in Northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

Tractor or autonomous platform

Dr Guzzomi explains that the Weed Chipper can be used in a tractor operated system or as an attachment on an autonomous platform. Manufacturers are approached in an effort to get the technology commercially available for growers. The cost of a commercial Weed Chipper is still to be defined.

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The team that developed the Weed Chipper is working on a more suitable sweep design for a chipping operation.
The team that developed the Weed Chipper is working on a more suitable sweep design for a chipping operation.

Dr Walsh expects it will be affordable for growers, when compared with current spraying systems. “It is difficult to compare the cost of herbicides with the capital investment of the Weed Chipper”, he says. “But our system requires little maintenance or inputs. We think there can be significant long-term cost savings for growers using this system.”

Earlier this month the Weed Chipper won the Rio Tinto Emerging Innovation category at the 2019 Western Australia Innovator of the Year awards.

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