WeLASER takes us a step closer to pesticide-free future

After three years of work, an international partnership – the WeLASER consortium working group (pictured top) – has created a precision weeding tool which it says demonstrates that a pesticide-free future is possible and that “herbicide-free agriculture is at hand”.

The partnership is formed by research centres, universities, private companies and farmers’ organisations from Spain, Germany, Denmark, France, Poland, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, and the WeLASER project is funded by the EU within its “Horizon 2020” programme.

It has completed the first stage of the development of a precision weeding prototype tool that allows progress in eradicating the use of herbicides, improving the productivity and competitiveness of crops, thus eliminating health risks and the adverse environmental effects of chemicals, according to a press release.

The prototype includes an autonomous vehicle that drives through the crop and is equipped with an advanced detection system based on artificial intelligence (AI) through image acquisition and data processing, which allows it to distinguish and localise the centre of growth of the weed to be eradicated. Once targeted through the scanner, it directs the high-powered fibre laser source to that meristem. This fast modulation concept is said to allow precise energy pulses to be directed for highly efficient weed treatment. Data management is managed by a cloud computing architecture and the system includes the IoT technology, WeLASER said.

Although this project is currently concluding its first phase of development, further work will be needed, for example, to reduce the time required to work in the field, to make the prototype easier to handle and connect, and to reduce production costs in order to achieve a marketable model, the consortium added.

For Project Coordinator Professor Pablo González de Santos, “The WeLASER consortium is motivated to adopt smarter farming methods and build more sustainable food production systems while preserving the environment and health. WeLASER opens up a reliable and safe option and offers breakthroughs to solve a global problem”.

Tractor Beverage Company

WeLASER takes us a step closer to pesticide-free future
Grammy-nominated recording artist Valerie June, thanks to Tractor Beverage Company

WeLASER’s weeding tool is just one of a few developments in the world that is working towards a pesticide and herbicide-free future. In other recent news, coming out of Ohio in the US, the Tractor Beverage Company announced that it had eliminated 78.2 tons of synthetic pesticides from the global food system since 2020. To celebrate this environmental accomplishment, which it announced on the 5th of December which was World Soil Day, recording artist Valerie June released her full rendition of Duran Duran’s hit “Ordinary World,” according to a press release from the Tractor Beverage Company.

Frontiers in Microbiology study

All over the world, academics have been studying the issue for some time and trying to come up with viable alternatives. For example, early in 2023, a group of African researchers put forward a paper detailing how biological pesticides could offer the answer to the problem.

In its abstract, the paper stated: “The dangers associated with the use of synthetic pesticides have necessitated the need for alternative use of organic pesticides (biopesticides), which are cheaper, environment friendly, and sustainable. Biopesticides can be sourced from microbes (e.g., metabolites), plants (e.g., from their exudates, essential oil, and extracts from bark, root, and leaves), and nanoparticles of biological origin (e.g., silver and gold nanoparticles).

“Unlike synthetic pesticides, microbial pesticides are specific in action, can be easily sourced without the need for expensive chemicals, and are environmentally sustainable without residual effects. Phytopesticides have myriad of phytochemical compounds that make them exhibit various mechanisms of action, likewise, they are not associated with the release of greenhouse gases and are of lesser risks to human health compared to the available synthetic pesticides.

“Nanobiopesticides have higher pesticidal activity, targeted or controlled release with top-notch biocompatibility and biodegradability. In this review, we examined the different types of pesticides, the merits, and demerits of synthetic pesticides and biopesticides, but more importantly, we x-rayed appropriate and sustainable approaches to improve the acceptability and commercial usage of microbial pesticides, phytopesticides, and nanobiopesticides for plant nutrition, crop protection/yield, animal/human health promotion, and their possible incorporation into the integrated pest management system.”

WeLASER takes us a step closer to pesticide-free future
Sourced from the Frontiers in Microbiology paper

European Parliament activity

All this activity around forging a future free from harmful chemicals is against the backdrop of changes in legislation which have been implemented by the European Parliament. Towards the end of last year (2023), the Environment Committee adopted its position on measures to ensure sustainable pesticide use and reduce the use and risk of all chemical pesticides by at least 50% by 2030.

In the text adopted with 47 votes to 37 and 2 abstentions, MEPs said that by 2030, the EU must reduce the use and risk of chemical plant protection products by at least 50% and the use of so-called “more hazardous products” by 65%, compared to the 2013-2017 average. The Commission proposed a 50% target for both based on the 2015-2017 average.

After the vote, MEP Sarah Wiener (Greens, AT) said: “This vote brings us one step closer to significantly reducing chemical pesticide use by 2030. It is very positive that we were able to agree on feasible compromises in an ideologically charged and industry-dominated discussion. Practical solutions have been found for example on sensitive areas where member states can make exceptions if needed. It was particularly important for me to ensure that independent advice on preventive measures based on integrated pest management would be offered free of charge to European farmers.”

Read more on the European Parliament developments here.

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Top image credit: WeLASER consortium working group

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