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SA startup reducing pesticide use

A South Australian start-up is using AI technology to create a new way of weed management, reducing the need for expensive and potentially harmful pesticides.

Jan 22, 2024, updated Jan 31, 2024
Flux Robotics uses AI to differentiate between weeds and crops. Image: Flux Robotics.

Flux Robotics uses AI to differentiate between weeds and crops. Image: Flux Robotics.

Founded by mid-north local Jordy Kitschke, Flux Robotics previously created the Onyx sprayer, which identifies and targets individual weeds, stopping farmers from having to spray their entire crop.

Now, Flux is working on the Rover, an autonomous fully solar robot that will have the ability to weed paddocks 24 hours a day.

“Part of the idea behind the Rover is to free up time for the farmer, so rather than sitting in a boom sprayer you can just let the Rover go 24/7,” Kitschke said.

The Rover, which Kitschke hopes to see hit the market in 18 months, can identify unwanted weeds within a crop, and with to-the-millimetre precision physically remove them from the soil, or treat them with pesticides.

“We’ve built these robotic arms that can hit individual weeds… one rips them out, another one just wipes chemical onto it,” Kitshcke said.

“It means you can be super precise with where you are managing your weeds.”

The benefits of reduced pesticide use were one incentive behind Flux Robotics’ products.

Pesticide use can not only be costly, explained Kitschke, but plants are becoming less susceptible to them.

“Weeds themselves can be really expensive in terms of yield loss. You’ve also got resistance: over time weeds build up resistance to the chemicals you use.”

The potential negative side effects of some pesticides on human health, biodiversity and even trade have been well documented.

“The misuse of agricultural pesticides can have serious effects, including compromising the health of organisms… and posing risks to Australia’s international trade,” a spokesperson from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said.

Pesticides have been linked to fish and aquatic invertebrate death when washed into rivers, as well as the deaths of birds, bees and a range of other unintended organisms.

Unwanted side effects of pesticides mean farmers are reducing their use of the chemicals. Photo: Unsplash

However, this does not mean pesticides will cease to be used anytime soon, the department spokesperson said.

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“Australian farmers are amongst the world’s best in adopting new technologies for pest and disease management.”

“Differences in agricultural practices mean that a variety of pest and disease management tools, chemical, biological or mechanical, will remain essential to agricultural production.”

Flux is providing a solution for agricultural industries in South Australia, with Kitschke saying farmers have put their own money into the Rover.

“We’ve got quite a bit of support from farmers who are helping fund and develop the product,” he said.

“We borrow people’s sheds and paddocks and tractors: we’ve had amazing support from farmers around the country.”

Speaking to InDaily in 2019 after being named in the 40 under 40 list, Kitschke spoke about the benefits of doing business in South Australia.

“It’s very easy to get access to the people you need access to because everyone knows everyone.”

Kitschke previously worked as the CEO of another startup, MEQ Probe, which uses medical-grade laser probes to assess meat quality.

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