Weed control is a priority for crop production for most UK arable farms. The availability and scope for use of selective herbicides is under pressure from legislation, herbicide resistance development, together with growing demands to reduce chemical inputs, conserve soil health and enhance biodiversity. Technologies are being developed that use electricity to effectively boil weeds inside out from root to tip. These range from precision instruments attached to unmanned weed-sensing robots, to larger tractor mounted systems for broadacre crop destruction.
How does it work?
High voltage electricity from a generator is passed via an applicator into weed plants and then into the soil. The electric circuit is closed via a second applicator that either touches other plants or the ground. A high-voltage electric current passes through the plant’s vascular tissue to create an instant heating effect causing plant tissues to desiccate and die. It is more effective on roots in dry conditions because the electric current can reach deeper root parts before being dissipated in the soil.
Farmer / Agronomist benefits
The key advantages of the technology are that it is chemical free, systemically kills the roots, does not disturb the soil and is effective for any weed. Obvious candidates are cover crop destruction and control of OSR volunteers, but potato haulm desiccation is also under investigation. Height selective hooded versions of broadacre systems are in development which could kill weeds which grow above the canopy like wild oats.
Who are the key researchers in this area?