Belgian scientists from the University of Ghent (UGent) have developed a multifunctional agricultural robot that makes genuine sustainable farming much easier. The robot works the field fully automatically and treats each section exactly according to what it needs at that moment. The robot can be seen for the first time at the AGRIBEX agricultural trade fair in December.

In view of stricter legislation on the use of fertilizers and plant protection products, the agricultural sector is increasingly looking for sustainable techniques to safeguard the farmers’ return on investment. This is where this robot comes in, the university says in a press release.

From soil analysis to spraying, everything is done with a fully automatic machine. The robot is small and light, which puts less stress on the soil than heavy machines. It can work the soil in a variety of ways, such as sowing, fertilizing and spraying the field, in exactly the right amount in exactly the right place. It dispenses these substances automatically and in varying quantities, depending on which part of the field needs more or less at that moment.

Precision farming

The researchers purchased the robot and developed the software themselves. Just like the integration of the robot with the associated machines, e.g. a cultivator, a seeder, a fertilizer machine and a sprayer.

Prof. Abdul Mouazen developed the technology together with his team within the Precision Scoring Group at UGent’s Faculty of Bioengineering.

“Agricultural robots have been around for a while. But so far, they have been working the fields without taking spatial variability into account. That’s the differences that exist between each part of the field. We applied our knowledge of precision farming to an agricultural robot that was already developed. By doing this, we created a fully automatic machine that is multifunctional, that can sample the field in real time and process it in a site-specific manner. Both the farmer and the environment benefit handsomely from this.”

Several trials in Belgium, but also in Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and Turkey, show that this technology has great potential. “Compared to the homogeneous application of fertilizer with nitrogen on an agricultural field, our technology saves the farmer about €50 per hectare. That is twice as much as existing differentiation techniques currently used in agriculture,” according to Prof. Mouazen..

More environmentally friendly

Because fertilizers and crop protection products are then applied site-specifically, fewer are needed. This spares the environment a great deal as well. Precision farming and robot technology, for example, offer a solution so that fertilization limits are not exceeded while still being able to achieve good yields.

The researchers calculated that site-specific fertilization results in as much as 19 percent less nitrogen when using artificial fertilizer. In the case of organic manure, it produces 4 percent less nitrogen and 7 percent less phosphorus. Moreover, an agricultural robot is lighter than conventional agricultural machines, which means that the soil is not compacted as much. This significantly reduces the risk of erosion and flooding during heavy rain, such as what happened this summer.

Also read: Agri robots for vegetables and fragile fruits

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