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Proving grounds: MFA demonstrates new See & Spray Ultimate technology

Aireal photo of John Deere See & Spray at MFA Tech Day

Innovation, technology and stewardship are among MFA’s core values, and all three were on display May 9 during a demonstration of John Deere’s latest targeted spraying system, See & Spray Ultimate. The technology uses artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning to target in-season weeds in corn, soybeans and cotton.

John Deere introduced See & Spray Ultimate in 2022 and offered limited quantities to farmers and agribusinesses for the 2023 season. MFA is the only company testing the technology on farms in Missouri this spring, working with Sydenstricker Nobbe Partners for a trial run of a John Deere 612R sprayer with a factory-installed See & Spray Ultimate package.

“At MFA, we don’t just talk about innovation and technology. It’s what we do,” said MFA Director of Agronomy Doug Spaunhorst. “That’s why we’re taking a look at this See & Spray technology. We want to see how it works, if it’s going to be a fit for our growers and, ultimately, what it does from a weed control standpoint before making a decision about adding it to our fleet.”

Hosted on the farm of Frank and John Glenn just outside Columbia, Mo., the field day allowed MFA and John Deere personnel, Missouri Department of Agriculture officials, industry and university representatives and media to see the new technology in action in a real-world situation. The Glenn farm is one of the sites where MFA has tried out the See & Spray Ultimate rig, and the farming brothers had a chance to experience the benefits firsthand.

screenThe screen shows in red where is has focused it's application of post-emergent herbicides at a 22% savings spraying the entire field with one rate.

“We got to see this machine work for us, and seeing is believing,” Frank Glenn said. “They sprayed all our corn acres with it this year, and it was very impressive. As expensive as it is to put in a crop, anytime you can save money on chemicals, you do it. That machine will do it.”

John Deere’s data shows that See & Spray Ultimate technology can reduce herbicide use by 60% to 70%, and MFA’s test runs confirm those statistics, said Camerone Horine, MFA precision data manager. In fact, he told field day attendees that after using the See & Spray machine across 600 acres, MFA applicators found that only 22% of the total acreage was sprayed compared to a normal application.

Brenton Bartelt, field service representative with John Deere, described how See & Spray works as he gave attendees a walk-around tour of the machine. As the sprayer moves through the field at up to 12 mph, boom-mounted cameras and vision processing units detect the difference between the desired crop and weeds and trigger the nozzles to spray the appropriate crop protection product accordingly. There is one camera mounted every 1 meter across the width of the boom, which equates to 36 cameras on a 120-foot boom scanning more than 2,100 square feet at once.

“See & Spray Ultimate brings in ‘green on green’ technology, so when we’re in a field of corn, soybeans or cotton, it will only target the plants that are identified as weeds, not the crop, so we’re only spraying what is needed,” Bartelt explained. “As we’re going across the field, we’re actually creating a weed pressure map, which is kind of like a yield map for weeds. We can then overlay an as-applied map to the weed pressure map to make better agronomic decisions, whether it be on our chemical programs, putting in some tile or changing tillage practices, things like that.”

The 612R machine has a dual-tank configuration with a 1,200-gallon capacity, split into a 450-gallon tank for targeted spraying and a 750-gallon tank for broadcast spraying, Bartelt explained. This allows applicators to combine two passes, which can can significantly lower herbicide costs, reduce tendering stops, help cover more acres per day and battle herbicide resistance. For example, the See & Spray equipment can precisely spray weeds and broadcast fungicide or apply a non-residual targeted spray and residual broadcast, all in one application.

MoAgDirectorMFA Agri Service VP Dr. Jason Weirich demos the John Deere See and Spray technology for Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn.

“The solutions are completely independent of each other all the way from our filling functions out to the boom,” Bartelt said. “So, when we think about products that may be antagonistic against each other that we couldn’t previously combine in a tank mix, we can now split those up and apply them both with one machine instead of running two separate tank mixes and two applications across the field.”

After Bartelt’s walk-around tour of the machine, MFA Vice President of Agri Services Jason Weirich demonstrated the See & Spray by making a few passes through the Glenns’ corn and soybean fields. Blue-dyed water in the tanks gave attendees an easy visual reference to see how the spray targeted the weeds. Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn rode along with Weirich to experience the technology firsthand.

“We all know there are fewer acres today available for us to be farming, so we have to make the most of the acreage that we have,” Chinn said. “It’s technology like this that is going to allow us to continue to produce more and to bring the next generation back home to the farm. More importantly, we’re going to have more data that allows us to make better decisions, and that’s a win-win, not just for our family and our farms, but for our communities and the environment.”

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