Microwaves and a mapping technology are being explored by the Department of Agriculture and Food to control weeds and pests in Western Australian grain crops.
The research was profiled today (24 February) at the 2015 WA Agribusiness Crop Updates, hosted by the department and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.
Laboratory experiments using a household microwave have found the technology can be effective at low doses to eradicate snails, while higher doses can effectively kill weed seeds.
Department senior research officer John Moore said the experiment demonstrated that microwaves could be used successfully to control localised concentrations of snails or seeds.
Mr Moore said microwave technology could be incorporated into a slow moving autonomous rover that could travel at around one kilometre per hour to treat small areas of weed or pest infestations.
“This technology could be quite feasible to control snails at a cost of $10-20 per hectare, where there are small infestations,” he said.
“Snails have long been a problem in the eastern states and now they are becoming an increasing problem in the WA broadacre sector with the increased use of lime, stubble retention and minimum tillage.”
Mr Moore said one benefit of microwave technology was that it could kill seeds in the soil – even while dormant.
“There is the potential to use microwaves to eradicate small areas of resistant or noxious weeds, such as ryegrass, skeleton weed or bedstraw,” he said.
“However, at the current cost of more than $100 per hectare, it is not likely to be widely adopted on a broadacre basis until the research is done to reduce the cost.”
The department is now collaborating with the University of Melbourne on projects to examine the application of this technology.
Mr Moore has also been working with Cordering grain grower Tim Harrington on developing a machine to detect and map contaminants in grain as it is being harvested.
The pair has designed a device to identify contaminants, such as weed seeds, insects, snails or diseases and record the time and location in the field so as to produce a paddock scale map.
The prototype device incorporates a collector, transporter, sensor, GPS and computer.
Mr Moore said the equipment had the potential to further advance precision agriculture.
“Development of this technology will assist growers to benchmark, evaluate and refine weed and pest control programs, while also reducing chemical controls and the risk of herbicide or pesticide resistance,” he said.
“The device could also aid early detection of invasive weeds and pests, enabling a more rapid and effective response.
“We are working towards paddock trials using these approaches in the next year or so.”
The research will also be profiled at the Salmon Gums Regional Crop Updates on Thursday, 5 March.
More information on Regional Crop Updates 2015 is available from agric.wa.gov.au/regional-crop-updates-2015 and www.grdc.com.au/updatedates
John Moore, senior research officer +61 (0)8 9892 8476/0437 353 640
Jodie Thomson/Megan Broad, media liaison +61 (0)8 9368 3937