NOTICE | Innovation can help save Sarasota Bay and the Everglades | Rowboat key

It’s likely that the runoff of weed killers and pesticides from all of us who live near water and farms is contributing significantly to fueling both the red tide and blue-green algae outbreaks in Florida. Both cause mass mortality of marine life and dirty our beaches and coastal waters, with a serious impact on the environment and our economy based on seaside tourism. Keeping our water and our beaches clean is vital for a better environment and our quality of life.

Technological innovations in agriculture promise to make big inroads in reducing agricultural runoff into rivers, streams and coastal waters and may soon extend to lawn care and landscaping to reduce the harmful runoff from urban and suburban areas. Over the past few decades, new agricultural technologies like surveillance drones, autonomous tractors, and high-tech greenhouses have improved agricultural efficiency. These technologies have already spread to urban and suburban uses, particularly drones and robotic lawnmowers. New advances in weed control techniques could be the next big breakthrough in agricultural technology to transform modern agriculture.

For example, a company called Carbon Robotics is one of many companies making automated farming equipment and now what they call the “Autonomous Laserweeder”, an automated weeding machine that uses laser beams to zap weeds from a field — no chemicals required.

Stand-alone weeders can remove weeds from crops without herbicide. (Photo courtesy of Carbon Robotics)

Automated, laser-guided methods of weed control for agriculture could mean that farmers no longer have to use dangerous herbicides or less effective natural weed control options. Since natural herbicides cannot kill the roots weeds as effectively as more chemically modified compounds, many natural pesticides require farmers to spray their crops several time one season, whereas traditional chemical methods require only one application but are loaded with chemicals that poison our waters.

Weeding robots can completely weed anywhere from 15-20 acres per day, while weeding by hand, the average farm team could barely cover the same ground by one week. And the roboweeder can work day and night, in bad weather, and only kills weeds and not beneficial plants. It also does not damage the soil like herbicides do, reducing the need for soil additives. Adding up the savings of not buying herbicides and soil additives and the higher productivity of the robot weeder, the saving of lasers over spraying starts to make sense.

This technology, like the others mentioned, starts with trusses and their economies of scale. Laser weed control works by using high-resolution cameras to differentiate weeds from crops and avoid harming soil health. Learning and improving agricultural uses will facilitate the creation of databases to allow this system to recognize yard, garden and decorative plants from weeds. As technology improves and costs come down, it’s easy to see how they can be used by homeowners and landscapers in urban and suburban settings.

Laser weed control can also have direct human health benefits. Current estimates suggest that the use of herbicides over the past half century has caused major soil depletionleading researchers to believe that vegetables have lost up to 40% of their nutritional value compared to ancient cultures. Since the farmer does not need to use any chemicals at all, laser weed control is probably more beneficial to the soil than even the safest herbicides. This is even more true for home gardens where herbicides can reach food plants directly and the effects on the soil are more concentrated.

It’s usually exciting to watch the market and technological innovation come up with new ways to solve a tough trade-off in agriculture – how to balance keeping food prices low with low-cost weed control versus the damage weeds do. herbicides can inflict. It’s even more exciting when the same innovation can help us all reduce or eliminate herbicide runoff from our homes, parks, golf courses, medians, and more. Every part of this runoff that we reduce helps reduce the risk of red and blue-green tides. algae outbreaks. Never seeing one again is something we think everyone can handle.

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