Star Trek at a vegetable grower in Brabant: tackling the weeds with laser beams | Domestic

Not with the old-fashioned hoe, but with ultra-modern lasers, the Brabant vegetable nursery A. vd Einden wants to combat weeds in the coming growing season. Thirty lasers in the so-called LaserWeeder can scorch a maximum of five thousand weeds per minute. Costs: 1.5 million euros.

“It is a revolution, we are really going three steps forward,” says cultivation specialist Mark Arts. It is the first example of the American company Carbon Robotics on the European continent, although more are coming this way. Several dozen have been on the road in the US since its introduction in 2022. The vegetable nursery and the associated company Green Specialties from Lierop chose this solution because more and more chemical pesticides are being banned.

Crop failures

“We grow leafy vegetables such as spinach, baby leaf and arugula,” says cultivation specialist Mark Arts. In recent years it has regularly happened that plots have to be left standing because there are too many weeds. “We naturally want to prevent such crop failures. We also use mechanical control, but that damages part of the vegetable crop.”

Spinach in the field. The disappearance of pesticides has made it more difficult for vegetable growers to combat weeds. © RV

The LaserWeeder is accurate to the millimeter. Crop cameras use artificial intelligence to recognize whether a plant is a weed or not. The thirty lasers then shoot their beams at the target via movable mirrors, after which the weeds burn and stop growing. It’s like Star Trek in the fields of Brabant. The spinach remains unharmed.

Then you think: it’s unbelievable that we are already able to do this

Mark Arts, Cultivation Specialist Green Specialties

Arts itself is also under the pressure of advancing technology. “Last autumn the machine was tested here for a day. Then you think: it’s unbelievable that we are already able to do this.” The imported machine is not cheap: approximately 1.5 million euros.

At the same time, innovation is essential to continue growing vegetables under the increasingly strict environmental regulations in Europe. While many chemical agents are no longer available, biological agents are often not yet available. That is why the agricultural organization LTO previously warned that the Dutch cultivation of lettuce, onions and apples is under pressure.

The LaserWeeder behind a tractor at the company in Brabant.
The LaserWeeder behind a tractor at the company in Brabant. © Frits Huiden

The LaserWeeder goes into the field for the first time seven days after sowing the crops. The machine weighs 4.3 tons and runs on support wheels behind a tractor. The lasers work over a width of approximately 6 meters, so that they can clean three cultivation beds at the same time. The weight is partly due to a built-in cooling system.

It is impossible to go back to a time when everything had to be kept clean with the heel. “We grow vegetables on about 220 hectares. Weeding manually is not possible and the people are also hard to find. Now we get security and peace in return,” says Arts.

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