The XPower from AGXTEND, powered by Zasso, an electric weed control machine, uses mechanical power to produce a high voltage current that is applied directly to plants via a series of electrodes in an applicator unit mounted on the front or rear of the tractor.
Researchers at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) in Western Australia (WA) are currently testing the technology under Australian field conditions, through a collaboration with AGXTEND, a branch of CNH Industrial. DPIRD research scientist Miranda Slaven tells Future Farming that this new technology is effective as a weed control strategy in several weed control scenarios.
The machine passes electricity through a plant by touching it with an electrical applicator, which causes the cell walls to be destroyed – killing the plant or supressing growth. The target species are affected immediately and desiccate within hours.
Ms Slaven joined the DPIRD Northam’s crop protection team as a Research Scientist in May 2021 to determine the applicability of electric weed control technology within Australian systems. She is achieving this through analysing the effect of weed morphology, soil conditions and other technical factors on electrical application efficacy. Ms Slaven is also analysing the applicability of the machinery currently available commercially in the international market, as well as its economic viability.
The machine is used as an implement mounted to a tractor. How does it work?
“Electric weed control works through the production of a high voltage current from the tractor’s PTO shaft. This current bursts the weed’s cells when it is applied to them via a series of electrodes in the applicator unit. The technology is non-selective and everything that is contacted by the electrodes will be treated. So, it is similar to glyphosate in that way.”
“The AGXTEND electric weed control system is a modular machine, and there is the potential for developing new applicator units and use patterns. It is in the early stages of product development for the Australian market. From DPIRD’s trials and discussion with industry, we work to gain beneficial insights into the machinery from those working in the Australian weed management space. Then we can provide that feedback to inform AGXTEND and Zasso with some possibilities for future development.”
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Did it take a long time to get used to operating the machine?
“No, it’s not too difficult. It is similar to the application of herbicides. You have different techniques and conditions that affect the operation, and once you get the hang of them, you’re able to apply the treatments as you would a herbicide spray. The system has a screen that you mount inside of the cab. The screen is connected to the generator and applicator units, and you set can set all the necessary parameters on it; things like the height and voltage of the application.”
How are service and maintenance organised?
“At the moment, CNH Industrial are responsible for the servicing and maintenance of the machinery The technology is not commercialised in Australia yet. The service schedule is determined by the engineers at Zasso, who work with CHN Industrial to ensure optimal operation of the technology is maintained. This requires the support of trained individuals such as high-voltage electricians which we are provided with by CNH Industrial through the in-kind support from Southern Cross Industrial Group.”
Has the XPower been updated or changed while you have been using it?
“There have been some small updates of the software and firmware, and some minor mechanical things have been changed. It is a modular system, which farmers can set up for their own tractor and system.”
What are the main advantages of the machine?
“Electric weed control offers farmers a new mode of action to target their weeds. As everyone knows, there is no silver bullet for weed control. This new technology will be part of an integrated weed management program. There are different situations, where you can add electro-weeding in to remove some chemical or mechanical weed control applications. You can also use it to manage those locations where you have resistant weeds and get them under control by reducing that population.”
Electric weed control also offers the benefit of assisting growers to work towards a more sustainable future
“Electric weed control also offers the benefit of assisting growers to work towards a more sustainable future, reducing spraying and tillage. And electro-weeding can be effective when environmental conditions aren’t suitable to apply herbicides, such as when it is windy, or when the weeds are too stressed to respond to herbicide.”
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Are there disadvantages of using the machine?
“Electric weed control is like all weed management strategies. They are never going to individually be able to completely control your weed population, and require the right environmental conditions during application to be effective. For example, if it is raining, you can’t use electro-weeding, or spraying. However, when the strategies are used as part of an effective integrated weed management plan, successful weed control can be achieved. Currently, those in weed management are just waiting for this new technology to become commercialised and for applicators that are applicable for the Australian market.”
Can growers save money with the machine?
“We are still analysing the economic side of things, so I can’t really comment on the specifics of the cost of this machinery. But we are looking into it. Once you purchase the machine, the only costs will be for labour, maintenance, and diesel. Also, if you don’t have to purchase as many herbicides for your weed management program, you’re not as subject to price fluctuations, if there are shortages for example.”
I understand that the trials had a positive start. Can you say something about this?
“We found that this new technology is effective as a weed control strategy in several weed control scenarios, and under the right application conditions. The technology is exciting because it provides an alternative to herbicides. It is more sustainable and can hopefully in the future be integrated into current weed management strategies.”
There is a growing rate of herbicide resistance in Australia, runoff and pollution into the environment, and an increasing negative perception of herbicides as well
“There is a growing rate of herbicide resistance in Australia, runoff and pollution into the environment, and an increasing negative perception of herbicides as well. We have had a lot of positive support from industry for this project and many of those in the weed management space are actively looking for effective alternative measures such as this technology.”
If you could improve the XPower, in what ways would you do this?
“To improve the XPower, I think we have to figure out what the needs are of those working in Australian weed management, and how they would like to implement the technology. That would be the most beneficial way of finding improvements. The technology is developed for Europe, and we need figure out how to implement it effectively in Australia.”
What advice would you give farmers who are considering buying technology like this?
“Once this technology is commercialised here in Australia, farmers should talk to the machinery dealership, consider the pros and cons to see if it’s a good fit for their system. If you need more information on how this technology is performing in WA, contact myself, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development or AGXTEND.”