AN AUSSIE ag-tech start up is looking to harness the considerable promise of microwave energy as a weed-killer on a commercial scale in the horticulture sector.
Trials have long demonstrated proof of concept with the use of microwave energy to kill weeds, however bridging the gap between the trial phase and commercialisation had proved difficult, primarily due to the energy costs required.
However, Growave, which has successfully trialled its microwave technology product in strawberry crops, believes advances in ag-tech in recent years will allow microwave weed-killers to make the transition from the trial plot to commercial farmers' paddocks.
Growave's head of product and robotic engineer Liam Hescock said the company's trials using the microwave energy product as both a weed and disease management tool had been promising.
On the weed management front Mr Hescock said the horticulture growers were particularly happy with the results on nutgrass, a difficult to manage weed.
"One of the biggest issues for farmers is weeds like nutgrass. It's a bulbed weed, and the more you work the soil, the further it spreads, so if we can take out the nutgrass using Growave's technology, it will save farmers thousands of dollars a year," Mr Hescock said.
He highlighted a successful kill of charcoal rot pathogens as a big boost for growers, with the product killing 95 per cent of soil-borne pathogens that cause significant losses within the strawberry industry.
He said charcoal rot was a significant problem for the strawberry industry, with 90 per cent of Victorian strawberry crops affected in 2020.
The Growave product works by using microwave technology to create an intense electric field that is used to target select weeds, buried seeds, and pathogens.
"It penetrates the target and destroys the cell structure from the inside permanently," Mr Hescock said.
He said the advent of plant identification technology had made the use of microwaves more affordable.
At present the machine is towed behind a tractor, going row by row but the Growave team ultimately envisages the technology to be configured on an autonomous tractor or platform.
Mr Hescock said with growing concerns surrounding herbicide resistance there would be demand not only from the horticulture sector but real interest from broadacre croppers.
Growave is currently running trials on resistant weeds.
"At present we are launching into horticulture, but this chemical-free technology will be of real interest to broad acre farmers," he said.
Mr Hescock said he saw the fit in broadacre cropping as an option to target problem weeds.
"I don't think it would be used over an entire paddock, but if growers knew they had a small patch of resistant ryegrass then they would use Growave for that problem area," he said.
"We have had positive results on killing roundup resistant ryegrass and will continue to conduct trials on resistant weeds in 2022."
"This is not going to be a replacement for blanket applications, as it takes too long to get across the paddock, but it will fit in well with farmers taking a more targeted approach to weed management using precision technology."
He said the company was set to launch a second set of trials in both Australia and California in strawberry crops next year.
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