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Broadcaster Press 11 March 17, 2015 www.broadcasteronline.com NATIONAL AG WEEK Blasting Weeds Away With Grit Jim Eklund drives as agronomist Frank Forcella blasts small weeds away with pressurized grit from a prototype of PAGMan (Propelled Abrasive Grit Management) Jim Eklund drives as agronomist Frank Forcella blasts small weeds away with pressurized grit from a prototype of PAGMan (Propelled Abrasive Grit Management) The timeless struggle against weeds is especially tough for organic farmers, who avoid using highly concentrated toxic herbicides in favor of chemical-free methods like hand-pulling, soil tillage, and scorching. These methods are timeconsuming and expensive, and they tend to be less efficient than standard herbicides. Fortunately, the war on weeds has a new non-chemical weapon to add to its arsenal: a machine that obliterates weeds by blasting them with grit. Propelled Abrasive Grit Management (PAGMan) is a device created by agronomist Frank Forcella and a team from South Dakota State University in Brookings and the USDAARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory in Morris, Minn. The system disintegrates weeds with high pressure grit particles while leaving the surrounding crops intact. A little internet research revealed that a small sandblaster wouldnt break the budget, so they gave it a try. They bought a tiny sandblaster and, using corn cob grit, they tested it out in the greenhouse on common weeds growing alongside corn. When the corn is about six to 12 inches tall, and the weeds are just poking up, you blast them for just a split second with the corn grit and, sure enough, the weeds disappear, said Forcella. With this timing of the pelting process, the strong, established corn plants remain intact and can continue to grow. But the tender leaves of the emerging weeds succumb to the blasting process. Without the leafy tops on the weed plants to photosynthesize, the weeds root system withers away, and the weed dies. PHOTO BY DEAN PETERSON Forcella got the idea while he was daydreaming about uses for the five gallon bucket of apricot pits he had lying around the house. It just seemed wasteful to throw away all these pits, and it got me wondering what the apricot industry does with them. It turns out they sometimes grind them up and use the grit in sandblasters. Sandblasting, or abrasive blasting, uses high pressure to propel grit in order to smooth, shape, and clean surfaces. Out in the field one day, my colleague and I thought, What if we could adapt the sand blasters to control weeds? said Forcella. We kind of laughed it off but the idea didnt go away. After determining which stage of plant growth is best to apply the grit, it was time to take PAGMan to the field. Forcella used a bigger unit mounted on an off-road vehicle in a corn field, and, Lo and behold it worked! said Forcella. We found that we could get 80-90% weed control, and with that kind of control you have zero crop loss. The blasters target weeds that sprout among common row crops such as soy and corn. Two applications of the grit treatment work best and should be applied when the crop is tall and strong enough to be unharmed. Forcella approached organic farmers with the • Water & Sewer • Basement Excavation • Demolition • Site Preparation • Ditching • Grading Mike Pollman PO Box 424 • Wakonda, SD 57073 Phone/Fax: 605-267-2768 Cell: 605-661-1063 xkv8tor@yahoo.com Game Of Drones Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles ecosystem,” says Thevoz. (UAVs), are a hot ticket in Silicon Valley, In Singapore, Garuda Robotics is but U.S. government dithering over already moving beyond just being a drone regulations has given overseas companies operator. “The drones are a means to get a head-start in figuring out how best to the data out of the sky,” says co-founder exploit them. and CEO Mark Yong, “but if you can’t Global spending on drones could add process it you’ve not created any value for up to close to $100 billion over the next the customer.” decade, with commercial uses - from While the company has been helping farming and filming to pipelines and map the boundaries of palm oil plantations parcels - accounting for around an eighth in Malaysia, it has added the ability to of that market, according to BI Intelligence. calibrate the drones’ cameras to measure But for years, the Federal Aviation moisture levels in individual trees. It’s now Administration (FAA), the authority largely working with agronomists to figure out how responsible for regulation in the United to make sense of that thermal data to judge States, has dragged its feet, only last month the health of trees and their likely yield. issuing draft rules on who can fly drones, Other projects include assembling how and where. It’s likely grit-blasting method, to be a year or more before some of whom suggested the regulations are in place improving the idea by - good news for companies substituting organic operating outside the U.S. fertilizer something and looking to build a farmers have to apply business around drones. to the soil anyway for Sky-Futures, a British the corn cob grit. Many company that dominates fertilizers, like limestone the use of drones to collect for instance, just happen and analyze inspection data to have a granular for oil and gas companies, gritty texture, said says its business soared Forcella. So farmers can 700 percent last year as apply the fertilizer and the normally conservative simultaneously blast the energy industry embraced smithereens out of weeds. the new technology. CoSome weeds, like founder and operations waterhemp and pigweed, director Chris Blackford have developed multiple said the company is resistance to common coupling drones with herbicides, and are no software and a better longer deterred by them. understanding of what The PAGMan has the works in the field, giving potential to assist in PHOTOS BY IOWA AG LITERACY controlling these sly weeds Sky-Futures “a head-start over the U.S because we understand pretty on conventional farms as intimately the problems facing the oil and real-time 3D maps of building sites to help well. gas market, and how we can solve them construction schedules, monitoring and With help from Dan reducing algae blooms and keeping tabs on Humberg and Cory Lanoue, with technology.” Looser regulations outside the U.S. have packs of stray dogs using infrared cameras. field machinery engineers created pockets of innovation attracting All of this would be hard, if not at SDSU, and a grant from ideas, money and momentum, says Patrick impossible, under FAA regulations that NCSARE (North Central Thevoz, co-founder and CEO of Swiss-based limit drones flying out of sight of the Sustainable Agriculture Flyability, which builds drones inside a operator, or at night. Research and Education), spherical cage that allows them to bump While regulation typically lags the team crafted a larger through doors, tunnels and forests without technology, no one’s betting against Silicon version of the PAGMan. Valley dominating the industry in the long This version has eight cone- losing balance. Another British company, BioCarbon run. Last year, more than $100 million shaped nozzles targeted Engineering, hopes to speed up flowed into U.S. drone start-ups, according at either side of four rows reforestation by using drones to plant to CB Insights, double 2013 levels. of crops. The nozzles are germinated seeds, and shares in New “Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Philip Von connected to a tank that Zealand-based Martin Aircraft trebled in the first few days after company out of Singapore. “They know Tests with the updated what they’re doing in the U.S.” and larger PAGMan on corn listing in Australia last month, on investor And China, too, is in the game as plots in organically certified hopes for the personalized aircraft maker which is developing a UAV that could be hardware prices fall rapidly. China’s DJI fields show favorable used by the military, oil and gas, mining sells consumer grade drones for $500, results. Forcella hopes to and farming industries. making it hard for companies producing work in conjunction with In Japan, the government is looking to lower volumes to justify their higher colleagues to improve the prices. device, possibly adding GPS fast track industry-friendly regulation to give its drone business an edge. “The challenge for all drone in order to improve aim Palm Oil, Pack Dogs manufacturers now is that we’re in a accuracy. But the real work, say those in the market that is constantly updating,” said Theres a lot of expense industry, is in building out the drone Flyability’s Thevoz. and manpower associated ecosystem: the payload, software, operator with organic weed control, n Jeremy Wagstaff, Reuters (AP) said Forcella. This method, and end user, and making sense of the data. That can if practiced at the correct only come by connecting to growth stages, could be potential customers. a win against the neverWanted: “As long as you don’t ending onslaught of noxious • Old Cars have the end user because weeds. • RV Motorhomes n Crop Science Society of they can’t use it, you’re basically missing a lot of the • Farm Machinery America • Irrigation Systems • Any Type of COMPETITIVELY PRICED Scrap Iron • Grain Bin Removal COVERAGE FOR: Paying Top Dollar 1-402-640-6335 Coleridge, NE Will Pick Up •Homeowners •Farmowners GUBBELS SALVAGE Towing Service & Roll-Off Dumpsters Available •Renters Pat Girard Ph. (605) 267-2421 •Rental Property Mark Donnelly Ph. (605) 659-5596 • Licensed • Bonded • Insured Rock • Sand • Gravel Quartzite • Fill Material Because the job is tough enough. . . Getting the equipment you need shouldn’t be. Yankton, SD Hwy. 50 665-3762 (800) 952-2424 Jpravecek@fredhaar.com American agriculture not only provides food and clothing at home, but also helps meet the needs of others around the world. admin@fredhar.com Wagner, SD Hwy. 46 384-4580 (888) 384-4580 alhaar@fredhaar.com 605.624.2673 1014 E Cherry St. Vermillion, SD Freeman, SD Hwy. 81 925-4241 (800) 251-6912 www.deerequipment.com
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