There are serious machines available for mechanical weeding at the larger end of the scale.
The System Cameleon has been developed by Swedish firm Gothia Redskap.
The company states: “The key in the system is precise placement of the seed during seeding. Afterwards a hoeing between the crop rows is performed with high accuracy … the high accuracy inter-row cultivator is camera operated, and constructed to cut precise and accurately in both height and width.
“The camera controls the work frame on the machine, which is constantly adjusted in order not to damage the crop rows. Most commonly used in a 250mm crop row system is a 180mm wide coulter, leaving only 70mm of the row uncultivated.”
Suffolk farmer John Pawsey saw the System Camelon in Sweden. He was so impressed, he not only purchased one but he also became the UK’s distributor.
He told me: “We have looked at most weeding options since our conversion to organic in 1999 and this system is a game-changer as far as we are concerned.
"Its hoeing capabilities are the best I have seen, which opens up many new possibilities for us to grow less competitive crops. We have our regular gang of roguers in at the moment and they are reporting at least 30% less wild oats to pull than last year.
“As importantly, it is a brilliant tool for sowing and for under-sowing crops putting the seed right onto moisture giving it the best chance of establishing.
“In the past, all that has been available is a seeder box on the back of a harrow comb which we have found to be a very hit or miss affair and have lost considerable amounts of money in wasted seed and low fertility in the rotation due to failed under-sown fertility leys. It opens up possibilities for bi-cropping and dual cropping.”
There are numerous videos on youtube of the machine in operation. In one such video, Pawsey adds: “Unlike the Garford every single hoe has an individual spring on it, so it completely follows the contour of the land, making hoeing action just much more accurate. If the same machine is doing the drilling, seeding and hoeing, there is a distinct advantage in that.
"When you do a lot of undersowing, which we do a lot to establish cover crops pre-harvest, as fertility leys, you can attach a flexi bill, which allows you to drill the clover seed or green manure seed into the ground.”
The main draw back is the cost.
“At Stg£700,000, it’s certainly not cheap,” says Fintan Keenan, originally from Monaghan, who now lives and works in Denmark. There, he is consultant with Per Grupe, a large organic farm which also conducts much research on organic cereal cropping.
“The Camelon is good for bulk wheat, and can be pulled with small enough horsepower. But there are situations like say with winter wheat and winter rye - where you might need two of them. That’s £1,400,000.”
The Einbock machine he uses in Denmark costs £15,000 and is used with a Garford steering system.
This camera based system is a very versatile and fast machine, useful for achieving the higher protein levels he needs for specialist breads.
Brendan Guinan, of the In Season horticulture farm in Louth, uses Garford Robocrop InRow Weeder.
The Garford weeder uses video image analysis techniques to locate individual plants in order to mechanically remove weeds from the inter row and within the crop row between the plants.
It can be used on most crops that are planted with regular plant and row spacing, where the plant foliage is clearly separated from the next plant.
“It’s a really excellent machine, very strong and easy to set up,” Brendan Guinan tells me. “You can get them with GPS guidance for deadly accuracy.”
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