Organic sugar beet growers devote considerable time and effort to weed control. In the past, the manual removal of weeds with a hoe required around 70 hours of manual labour per hectare. Thanks to technical advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics, this no longer has to be done manually, which in turn reduces the amount of manual labour involved by 80% to 90%. There are currently two developments taking place in the area of robotics, one that is based on GPS technology (FarmDroid) and the other on camera sensors (Farming Revolution).
The FarmDroid is a solar-powered robot that first maps the field and then automatically sows the beet seeds in six rows. The robot remembers the exact location of each beet and later on, automatically weeds between the rows and along the rows themselves (between the beets). Since the robot allows for a few centimetres between the beets, the use of a hand hoe cannot be eliminated altogether. But more than 80% of manual labour can be reduced. However, improvements are still needed. For example, on days with little sun, the robot is not yet able to sow as effectively as desired.
The Farming Revolution is a robot that removes weeds between and along the rows. The system is based on a camera and the use of artificial intelligence, so that the beets can be distinguished from weeds. This robot is currently undergoing further development and is not yet commercially available. As part of a project subsidised by the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the robot is being used and tested by one of our organic farmers at the Ahrensberg farm.
Apart from robotics, other technologies are also being developed, such as mechanical hoes attached to tractors and other methods that are being tested in practice. The agricultural machine sector is hard at work developing new technologies and exploring new innovations. On the research side of things, the Cosun Beet Company Anklam is also an important project partner in the region as a processor.