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Resources & Utilities

Weeding out the Weeds

Trimble technology helps a Brazilian farmer harvest more yield with less environmental impact

Brazil is a vast country – almost twice the size of the whole European Union – yet only 30 percent of its 8.5 million square kilometers is dedicated to agriculture. Despite that relatively small allotment, the country has grown itself into one of the world’s leading breadbaskets. 

Although it has become a dominant producer and exporter of sugar, coffee, and beef––and the world leader in soybeans—its agricultural success has also come at a greenhouse-gas price. Recognizing this, in 2015, Brazil became the first major developing country to pledge an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and developed a specific strategy to reduce GHG emissions from agribusiness: the Low Carbon Emissions in Agriculture plan. The program offers incentives for sustainable agriculture, aims to eliminate illegal deforestation and encourages research on climate-resilient crops.

Brazil’s farmers have long known that adopting low-carbon agricultural practices will ensure the long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability of the sector. One of those farmers is third-generation farmer, Ivan Bedin.

One of the 4.4 million family farms in Brazil, Bedin’s family has been farming for 50 years and today they predominantly grow soybeans and corn on their 8,620 hectares of land in the Mato Grosso region. 

A persistent and costly challenge they have faced is trying to rid their crop rows of hearty weeds that steal nutrients away from the soybean and corn plants. 

“Typically, we’ve had to blanket spray weed-killing chemicals throughout the entire farm,” said Bedin. “Even if only 15 or 20 percent of the area was weed-infested, we had to spray the total area. That was a lot of input cost and it wasn’t good for the environment.”

In need of a more efficient and cost-effective weed-control system, the Bedin family acquired Trimble’s WeedSeeker® 2 technology. An intelligent spot-spray system, WeedSeeker 2 senses if a weed is present and signals a spray nozzle to deliver a precise amount of chemical—spraying only the weed. By targeting resistant weeds individually, the solution significantly reduces the amount of herbicides needed and promotes sustainability on the farm.

With a series of sensors set along each side of a sprayer’s boom, as the operator drives between soybean rows the optical sensors distinguish the green of the crop from the green weed and releases herbicide just on the weed. The operator can monitor the spray system from inside the cab and can adjust any application parameters while driving. The technology also automatically adjusts to changing temperatures, ambient light, and shifting backgrounds like bare soil or straw on the surface. 

Because the sensors know the speed and their position on the sprayer boom, they won’t spray sections of the field that have already been covered, and will automatically adjust spray timing when making a turn to ensure a weed is covered. 

“The WeedSeeker 2 has yielded us nearly 90 percent savings in herbicide costs,” said Bedin. “It allows us to work faster in the field so we can cover more hectares in a day. It’s accuracy and efficiency in detecting and spraying weed-killing chemicals has enabled us to increase our production and profits. And because we use less herbicides, we impact the environment less.”