Around 400 000 tonnes of pesticides are used in food crops annually in the EU, according to Eurostat. Herbicides account for around a third of the EU crop protection market, with 120 000 tonnes used annually. France, Germany and Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Poland and Romania are among the largest markets in the EU. The use of herbicides is in part responsible for a reduction of weed species on agricultural fields.
The LIFE SMART SPRAYER project aims to contribute to the more sustainable use of chemical crop protection products by reducing herbicides on agricultural fields. It will demonstrate a new herbicide application technology that reduces the use of herbicides by around 40%. The technology, which has already been validated on a pilot scale, is based on Agronomic Decision Engine (ADE), which detects weeds and allows for spot spraying. The project will construct six full-size prototypes of its Smart Sprayer to show the technology’s commercial viability. These prototypes will be tested in six field trials for different row crops in France, Germany, Hungary and Romania.
Specifically, the project aims to:
- Test the prototypes over three years seasons in six regions covering a total of 10 200 ha;
- Demonstrate full commercialisation by the project end;
- Assess the performance of the Smart Sprayer technology in terms of weed control efficacy and crop yield performance;
- Ensure long-term sustainability and prepare the market strategy for the proposed innovative solution once the project is completed; and
- Evaluate the environmental benefits of the Smart Sprayer technology, such as a boost to weed species diversity, fauna population growth, water protection and a reduction in CO2 emissions.
The project contributes to the implementation of the Water Framework Directive by reducing pesticide in drinking and groundwater (limit value 0.1 µg/l). It is also fully aligned with the Directive on sustainable use of pesticides by demonstrating a technique for reducing pesticide (herbicide) quantities that also improves crop yield performance. The project is also relevant to the REACH and the Farm to Fork strategy of the EU New Green Deal.
- Reduction in the use of herbicides of 30% to 90% (estimated average of 40%), the equivalent of around 3 880 litres over the project period;
- 5% increase in crop yields;
- 2 to 3% improvement of the crop-specific weed soil cover tolerances (e.g. 3% in sugar beet and 2% in maize);
- 10 200 ha sprayed using project technology, resulting in herbicide cost savings of €280 500 (based on €27.50 per ha and the average 40% use savings);
- 5% increase in cost efficiency based on yield increases; and
- Recommendations of the best herbicide product and quantity for any given plant.