Electric weeding: There is tension in the soil

François Hersard invested 2 years ago in the XPower XS electric weeding solution as an alternative to glyphosate. - Photo: François Hersard
François Hersard invested 2 years ago in the XPower XS electric weeding solution as an alternative to glyphosate. - Photo: François Hersard

François Hersard is a young French winegrower who invested in the XPower XPS electric weeding system for vineyards and orchards. He shares his experiences with us.

XPower tools are high voltage, non-chemical and non-selective weed control systems between crop rows. These solutions are developed by Zasso with AGXTEND and distributed in Europe by the Case New Holland network. The XPower XPS range is the tool dedicated to weed control in vineyards and orchards. More than 80 XPower machines have already been sold in Europe. Future Farming visited François Hersard, a young French winegrower, who invested in this electric weeding solution 2 years ago as an alternative to glyphosate.

Also read: New Holland XPower XPN: Electric weeding solution for vineyards

What was the most important reason for purchasing an electric weeding system?

“The turning point came during the COVID crisis in the winter of 2020. When we noticed that organic wines were more valuable during this period, we questioned our working methods. We asked ourselves what we had to change to become organic in the next few years.

I spent the winter studying the different alternatives to chemical weed control. During my research, I came across videos of this machine weeding vines with electricity. After having studied the subject further, I contacted my New Holland dealer to talk to him about it and to organize a demonstration on our estate.

After a delay of 5 months, we were able to organize this demonstration. In April 2021, the AGXTEND and Zasso teams came to show us the machine. The result of the weeding took a few days to be felt, but after two weeks we were convinced that this solution was suitable for our vineyard.”

Text continues below image

François and his electric weeding machine in his vineyard, 2022. - Photo: François Hersard
François and his electric weeding machine in his vineyard, 2022. - Photo: François Hersard

How does weeding with the XPower XPS system work in practice?

“The machine is attached to the tractor with a three-point hitch and a rear power take-off. It comes equipped with a generator which transforms this mechanical energy into low voltage electrical energy. Then the electricity is converted to high voltage by the transformers. At the output, 6,000 to 8,000 volts are applied to each element by means of two poles, one positive and one negative. The electricity comes out of the positive pole, flows through the stem, bursts the cells and vessels of the plant to the roots, and then returns to the negative pole.

To regulate the machine, there is a terminal in the cabin that allows us to adjust the weeding process according to the working conditions.”

Text continues below image

Diagram of the functioning of the poles. - Photo: Zasso
Diagram of the functioning of the poles. - Photo: Zasso

How do you ensure that safety is guaranteed?

“The safety aspect is very important, we had a one-day training with the dealer during which we focused solely on the risks and how to work with the system in a safe way.

You don’t let just anyone work with this machine. Every time we use it, there is a whole safety process to respect. Just in case, I always equip myself with special boots and gloves to insulate myself. Before starting the machine, I put up signs at the 4 corners of the plot to make sure that no one enters. Then I enter my identifiers on the screen, I start a task, and I adjust the PTO speed. The job must be set up properly before I can turn the transformers on high. If the process is well respected and the conditions are good, a light flashes. This is the signal that the machine can send electricity to the elements.”

Text continues below image

Before starting the machine, warnings signs are placed at the 4 corners of the plot to make sure that no one enters. Rubber boots and gloves are to offer protection. - Photo: Zasso
Before starting the machine, warnings signs are placed at the 4 corners of the plot to make sure that no one enters. Rubber boots and gloves are to offer protection. - Photo: Zasso

How has the machine evolved since you started working with it?

“The start-up went well overall, after the training I knew the machine and I felt confident working with it. We had a few problems with obsolete updates and other small breakdowns, like a flat tire, that were quickly dealt with on site by the technician.

We received the machine at the end of the summer of 2021, so we waited before using it. If it is too dry, we avoid using the machine because there is a real risk of fire. There were two moments when a fire started on the negative element because of an accumulation of plants and overheating in this zone. Nothing serious though, I quickly cut the power off and I stopped the fire.

In August 2022, the left and right elements were changed to avoid this accumulation of vegetation. At the same time, they were reinforced, and the cables were better integrated. Since then, I haven’t had any problems.

Air extractor fans have been added to the machine to compensate for the overheating of the transformers. This overheating was causing a power cut triggered by the machine which went into safety-mode.”

Text continues below image

Photo of the left element, with its new sensor and electrodes. - Photo Zasso
Photo of the left element, with its new sensor and electrodes. - Photo Zasso

How are service and maintenance organized?

“This is where improvements can be made for the machine and the manufacturer. I often need to wait 5 days when there a component needs to be changed, or when I need a technician on site.

It may take several days for a technician to arrive

When I have a breakdown, I start by calling my dealer’s mechanic. I send him photos or videos with which he creates a folder by adding a description of the breakdown. Thanks to a modem placed on the machine, the manufacturer has direct access to the machine’s data, and can identify the problem quickly. However, parts have to come from Germany and technicians are not nearby, so it may take several days for a technician to arrive.

For the moment, all the service, i.e. maintenance, repairs, communication subscriptions and upgrades are included in the initial price. The updates are installed on site by the dealer via the screen because the manufacturer cannot take remote control of the machine at this moment.”

Text continues below image

Photo taken during of a service intervention on the farm, 2022. - Photo: François Hersard
Photo taken during of a service intervention on the farm, 2022. - Photo: François Hersard

​What are the constraints of electric weeding with the XPower XPS?

“The biggest constraint in use is humidity. If it’s too dry, electrical arcs can start a fire. And if it’s too moist, the electricity dissipates too much, and the machine automatically goes into safety-mode.

The stage of development of the weeds is also to be considered. The longer you wait, the more you lose in terms of weed control efficiency. It is therefore necessary to go through the fields as quickly as possible and to avoid situations where weeds are more than 20 cm high.

The machine works very well on slopes, less on tilts. On this version, you need a minimum of 1,90 centimeters of spacing between the rows.

We decided to free up a tractor for electric weeding so that we can react quickly

Compared to using herbicides, our weeding window has been reduced and we perform two additional treatments. We decided to free up a tractor for electric weeding so that we can react quickly. This will save the time – about an hour – needed to attach the system and the monitor to the tractor.”

How often do you use it?

“On our 15 hectares, we do 4 passes per year. A first pass in April to eliminate weeds that have emerged during the winter. Two other passes to maintain the bottom of the vines clean during the season – one before the summer and one after. And we finish with a pass just before the leaves fall on the ground in October, to avoid too much soil moisture. These passes are also enough to get rid of unwanted branches located less than 30 cm from the ground since these come in direct contact with the electrodes.

In addition to our plots, I have done 15 additional hectares as a service for other winegrowers in the area, with 4 passes as well.

I can do 6 ha per day, with an average of 0.5 hectares per hour. I adjust my speed to the density of weeds. If there is a lot of weed, I go at 2.5 km/h, if there’s less, I go up to 3 km/h. I could go faster, but studies have shown that you lose efficiency quickly.”

What ‘s the main difference between electric weeding and chemical weeding?

“In terms of efficiency, the result with electric weeding is almost similar. What’s different is the time it takes for the plant to die. With chemical weed control, the plant turns yellow after a few days, whereas with electric weeding control, it dies naturally within 1 to 2 weeks.

I think that electric weeding has its limitations in the long run, especially regarding seeds present in the soil. When we weed chemically, we often add an anti-germinative to the mixture, which allows us to intervene only twice a year. With electric weeding, we have less impact on the germs, that’s why more passes are required.

And finally, there is a difference in terms of costs. Chemical weeding costs us around €150 – €200 per hectare. To give you an idea: when and arable farmer hires me to do electric weeding, I charge € 80 per pass per hectare.”

Text continues below image

Photos of a test in a vineyard comparing results of chemical weed control ( 2 passes, left), mechanical weed control (5 passes, centre) and electric weeding (3 passes, right).
Photos of a test in a vineyard comparing results of chemical weed control ( 2 passes, left), mechanical weed control (5 passes, centre) and electric weeding (3 passes, right).

What do you think should be improved on the XPower XPS?

Since I am providing electric weeding services for other growers, I would like to have a more mature product and a more efficient quality of weeding in order to be able to work faster. Ideally, with 3 passes, I would have to do 80 hectares per year for other growers to make the machine profitable. But the product is still young, it evolves very quickly so the efficiency will increase.

I would like the implement and its monitor to be more compact. In a vineyard tractor or in the vineyard, there is always a lack of space. The machine is not yet ISOBUS-compatible and the monitor is quite large. Because of its size, you have limited visibility to the rear.

Finally, maintenance and service could be better. But I know the manufacturer is listening to feedback and things like maintenance, cleaning and remote access will be better with future updates.”

If you have the budget and the right staff to deal with the machine, you should go for it!

What advice would you give to other farmers who are considering investing in electric weeding technology?

“With this machine, you need to be very aware of the safety aspects, and you must handle it with care. I think it is essential to have an experienced and very attentive operator.

It is important to make sure that the electric weeding machine is effective in your own conditions, so it is better to test it on your type of soil before buying it.

If the results are convincing, if you have the budget and the right staff to deal with the machine, you should go for it!”

Recently, Zasso and AGXTEND presented, for the first time in the field, the XPower XPR Concept, an electric weeding solution for row crops.

Guillaumot
Maxence Guillaumot Product and Market Analyst, AgTech Market



Beheer