Small Robot Company has announced the launch of its commercial Per Plant Farming robot services to 50 farms.

The service will optimise existing sprayer equipment to reduce costs and inputs, using Per Plant Intelligence from SRC’s Tom monitoring robot to treat only the problem areas.

According to SRC, the service enables farmers to assess weed density information for no spray decisions, and to reduce herbicide use by around 77% at a conservative estimate, depending on weed density and distribution.

Farmers can also assess crop health and performance to cut fertiliser costs by around 15% and optimise crop nutrition, reckons the firm. These figures are based on the results of trial plots this season.

Increasing pressure

“With input costs on the rise, farmers are increasingly under pressure. Up to 90% of inputs are wasted,” says Sam Watson Jones, president and co-founder of SRC. “This is not economically or environmentally viable. Fertiliser alone is a major contributor to agricultural emissions.

Robotics gives huge scope to close the gap: delivering applications by exception. Precision monitoring alone can provide immediate value, optimising existing sprayers for herbicide and fertiliser applications. But we believe that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential for what per-plant farming can deliver, both in input-cost savings and yield enhancement.” 

Successful trials

The launch follows successful on-farm trials on three farms during the autumn 2021 to 2022 growing season to develop the service, including the Waitrose Leckford Estate and the Lockerly Estate, owned by the Sainsbury family. The trials covered 118ha, locating 446M wheat plants in which 4.6M weeds were identified.

Tom’s six on-board cameras, mounted on a boom, deliver a ground sample distance of 0.39mm per pixel. Among the highest resolution of any crop-scanning technology, this gives Tom the capability to see individual water droplets on leaves and early signs of disease outbreak, says SRC.