Robocrop scoops top honour

LINCOLNSHIRE-based Garford Farm Machinery has been honoured with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category for its Robocrop InRow Weeder.

Aimed at high-value vegetable, brassica and salad producers, the machine has come about to counter legislation over chemical-based weed control as the selection of herbicides diminishes.

Since its launch at Lamma 2008, the machine has already received the RASE gold medal plus other awards overseas.

The machine works using video information gathered from elevated digital cameras to locate plant canopy in a row, and then, using clever analysis software, actuates weeding rotors that flick between each plant.

The company’s Philip Garford says the concept came about after the success of its Robocrop High Speed hoe, which is aimed at vegetables and sugar beet crops.

The InRow Weeder is an advancement on that machine, and now into its third commercial year of sale, has reached 30 units worldwide with most working in brassica or lettuce crops.

Available in single, twin or triple-bed formats, it can be specified for varying row widths with the largest model covering some six metres, and featuring 15 rotors.

Front-mounted

All versions are front-mounted to allow the cameras to work without interference, and these can be set to varying tolerances for green or red crops such as lettuce.

Front-mounting means the frame is designed to freely shift up to 300mm laterally, but each rotor unit is steered via the camera’s processed signal.

The idea is to hoe out the centre between each plant, and, with working in plant-to-plant spacings as low as 150mm possible, then accuracy is vital.

Speeds in work can be as high as 3.5kph in a 500mm-spaced brassica crop, but lower speeds generally work better for lower spaced crops such as lettuces.

Each rotor is also steered down each row, and the aim is to cover 98 per cent of the surface area with fixed tines weeding between the plant rows.

Another factor lending itself to this type of machine is available personnel. “A large issue is finding staff to weed, and also hygiene concerns with crops such as lettuces that are packed in-field,” says Mr Garford.

“One operator on the InRow Weeder can work longer and more efficiently, and we have found buyers can reduce hand labour to minimal amounts with the machine paying for itself as wage bills are lower.”

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