LAWRENCE, Kansas – Growers of specialty crops like vegetables, flowers and herbs have traditionally had limited options for herbicide-based weed control. Instead they have relied on costly and time-consuming hand weeding to protect crop yields. Experts writing in the most recent issue of the journal Weed Technology, though, say promising new systems now hitting the market are offering broader choices.Manufacturers and startup ventures the U.S. and Europe are producing automated weed removal systems that marry machine vision and intelligent control technologies with precision sprayers and intra-row cultivators. These new systems are able to navigate between crop rows, “see” weeds and remove them using spot spraying or robotic hoeing. Future models may offer blown sand or heat-producing flaming devices as additional weed-killing alternatives.Automated weed removal systems use size differences and crop row patterns to differentiate between crops and surrounding weeds. That means they work best before weeds are very large or their populations become very dense. Growers also may want to change crop row patterns and spacing to make it easier for the systems to remove weeds in two directions.Though developed for specialty crops, the authors say automatic weed removal technology may be an effective alternative in agronomic crops as well – especially organic production systems.“Based on the vast improvements we’ve seen recently in robotics and processing, it appears the future of automation in weed control is very promising,” says Steven A. Fennimore, Ph.D., extension specialist with the University of California at Davis. “Growers now have an alternative path to weed control that can reduce their dependence on both agricultural chemicals and hand weeding.”Full text of the article, “Technology for Automation of Weed Control in Specialty Crops,” is now available in Weed Technology Vol. 30, Issue 4, October-December, 2016.