John Deere isn’t the first and certainly not the only company to offer a commercial spot spraying system. The fact that major tractor manufacturers have now started to adopt the technology will certainly accelerate market introductions.
The first commercially available spot spraying – or rather spot application systems – became available in the 1990s. Highly advanced camera systems, let alone artificial intelligence (AI), weren’t available yet back then, and manufacturers relied on near infrared (NIR) sensors. And on laws of nature, as NIR sensors are capable of detecting the amount of living plant material (chlorophyl and thus biomass). This information can be used for side dressing nitrogen fertilisers site-specifically and/or at a variable rate. Fritzmeier Isaria, Trimble GreenSeeker and Yara N-sensor, which are well-known systems providing this technology, are in use globally.
To combat weeds in strip-till and no-till farming, along with the preservation of soil moisture and the need to deal with herbicide-resistant weeds, farmers, especially in Australia, North and South America and South Africa, wanted to start spot spraying weeds. That’s when Rometron upgraded its WEED-IT selective spraying system for pavements and when Trimble launched its WeedSeeker based on GreenSeeker technology for so-called green-on-brown spot spraying, targeting weeds (green) on fallow ground (brown). That system dates back some 15 years.
Around 2015, the first image recognition cameras for weed detection and identification appeared. Bosch and at that time Bayer, demonstrated their green-on-green spot spraying development at the Agritechnica exhibition in Hanover, Germany. Because of the acquisition of Monsanto, Bayer sold its role in the project to BASF. The co-development by Bosch BASF that is now called One Smart Spray, will first be seen on sprayers of brands such as Agco (Fendt), Amazone, CNH and Dammann from 2024 onwards.
Bilberry, founded in 2016 and acquired by Trimble in 2022, was the first startup to commercially offer green-on-green camera-based spot spraying technology on sprayers of brands such as Agrifac, Berthoud, Dammann and Goldacres from 2016. They effectively beat both Blue River Technology (founded 2011) and Carbon Bee (founded 2015) to it.
Since then, and possibly triggered by the John Deere acquisition of Blue River as well, many startups and every established sprayer manufacturer started to realise the need for and the potential of spot spraying. Without the intention of giving a complete overview of manufacturers of spot or rather plant-specific spraying technology, the list is expanding rapidly. Apart from the companies already mentioned, these are also involved with camera or sensor-based spot spraying for broadacre sprayers: Agtecnic, Augmenta, AutoWeed, DeepAgro, Dimensions Agri Technologies, Exxact Robotics (Exel Industries), Greeneye, PerPlant, Precision Planting, Smart Apply (now John Deere), Sprayer Mods, and Tillett and Hague.