As Jeremy Hawkins with Blue River Technology explains, the company’s See & Spray technology uses artificial intelligence to identify and spray individual plants in just milliseconds.
“It’s a new era in agriculture. We’ve had advances in the mechanical, chemical and trait fields, and now, intelligent machines are here,” Hawkins says.
Smart machines, such as See & Spray, have three core elements: sense and decide, act, and verify and learn.
In the “sense and decide” phase, Blue River’s artificial intelligence identifies subtle differences between crops and weeds. During the “act” phase, only weeds are sprayed. The platform leads to a 90% reduction in herbicide use. “Verify and learn” describes the application of machine learning so that the application of the technology becomes more and more accurate.
“Everyone thinks the greatest benefit to this technology is reducing herbicide use,” Hawkins says. “But if you think about it from a production standpoint, growers have a bucket of money they can spend on a crop. An unproportional amount is going toward weed control. So if using Blue River Technology means a farmer is not spending as much on herbicides and not as much is going to weed control, they have funds available for plant enhancement products—the things that help yield and crop quality.”
In addition to the application reduction, it also minimizes off-target drift. The volume per acre is reduced, and larger droplet sizes can be used. See & Spray can help prevent herbicide resistance with rotating herbicide modes of action, applying appropriate rates for maximum efficacy and mapping weeds by species and size.
In September 2017, John Deere announced it will invest $305 million to fully acquire Blue River Technology, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif. The companies have been in discussion about their business relationship since October 2016.
In 2018, the company will expand its testing. As Hawkins explains, the previous prototype was an eight-row machine with a maximum speed of 4 mph. This year, the Series 1 test machines will be 12-row machines and have an operating speed of 6 mph.
Starting in Texas and spanning to Georgia and through the Mississippi Delta, Blue River will partner with John Deere dealers to identify local farmers as test cooperators for in-field demos.
“We’re are going to try to be in 80 to 100 fields and be in front of up to 200 growers,” Hawkins says.
The initial focus will be in cotton, and then, it will transition to include soybeans. Future tests will expand to peanuts, potatoes and corn.
Although a commercial launch hasn’t been announced, Hawkins says the Blue River team is seeking feedback and interest from farmers and ag service providers.