What does weed control for agriculture look like in the not-so-distant future? Some are making big bets it will look much more automated. While many are spraying and praying for the next novel active ingredient that can be inserted into their existing weed control program, others are looking to technology. Precision sprayers that can detect living plants and spot spray in fallow systems have been around long enough to vote at this point, but these systems will seem like the early green screen computers when compared to what is coming. While zonal fertility application and variable rate seeding are coming into their own, they will soon be joined by precision weed control technologies.
Currently, we apply a chemical (or a tank mixed cocktail) from fence row to fence row. Adding additional products, as one might be advised to do when herbicide-resistant weeds are problematic, compounds an already hefty part of an operation’s costs. Other best management recommendations to scout fields regularly, spot apply herbicides where escapes occur, and carefully manage roadsides and ditch banks translates to a daunting amount of labor and increased expense for many operations. Sending a hired hand out on a four-wheeler to drive all over the crop looking for escapes can be impractical for several reasons. So, we spray and pray knowing we really have one practical shot at spring weed control. We spray and pray the crop has not canopied over too much while we were waiting for the ground to dry out enough in the draws to access the whole field. We spray and pray that the one or two products we spent so much on will be effective. These are the stories we will bore our grandkids with, much like tales of rotary phones and rabbit ears on televisions.