An innovative precision farming platform is employing artificial intelligence (AI) in the battle against weeds in grassland.

Green-on-green – the targeting of green weeds in a green crop – has long been a challenge for those hoping to use precision farming technology to guide their spray applications. However, there is hope of help as SoilEssentials, the precision farming solutions pioneer, based in Angus, has harnessed expertise from the space industry along with agronomists and academics, to develop AI to overcome the green-on-green challenge.

SKAi – the SoilEssentials KORE Artificial Intelligence platform, pronounced sky – has developed AI components which can be trained to recognise broad leaved weeds growing in grass crops and then take control of a crop sprayer to implement targeted control as the machine progresses through the crop.

"Green-on-green species recognition is probably the biggest challenge we must overcome if farmers are to benefit from the efficiencies of automated targeted weed control in the future," said Dr Gregor Welsh, from SoilEssentials. "We are now able to train SKAi to target weeds in grass fields and automate the sprayer control via our machine mounted hardware.

"This new technology operates in real-time, meaning there is no need to pre-map the field, the on-board AI is set-up to constantly scan the vegetation, identify and selectively treat the weeds as the sprayer boom passes over.

"Trials of the system are showing high levels of success in the spraying of docks in grass fields and we are confident that our partnership will be able to progress SKAi until it can recognise and differentiate between a wide range of weed and cash crop species."

Graham Ralston, hardware director at SoilEssentials, commented on the potential roll out of the new technology: "Targeted weed control, resulting in reduced input costs and reduced environmental impact, is a win-win for farmers seeking more sustainable use of agrochemicals. There are many situations where blanket herbicide application across a whole field is undesirable – I’m thinking of broad leaf weed control in swards containing clover, for example.

"Ultimately, our challenge is to refine the technology until targeted control can be achieved even in what would appear to be difficult scenarios, eg blackgrass in wheat crops. And, of course we must also make sure that the system makes affordable economic sense versus existing spray application methods."

SoilEssentials are partnered in the InnovateUK-funded project by Deimos Space UK, University of the West of England and Scottish Agronomy.