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Benefits high-value vegetable varieties
Robotic weeding machine reduces labor pressure
“The pressure on labor and the high costs of labor continue to grow,” says Bob Sutton with Sutton Ag. “This isn’t just because laws have changed or because of the presidential election. It has to do with the availability of labor and the lack of it.” Sutton is based in California’s Salinas Valley and experiences first hand the costs that are associated with labor.
Weeding is one of the labor-intensive, but absolutely necessary parts of growing vegetables. “With their negative impact on yields, weeds are a big challenge, shared Sutton. “After a number of years, we found the right piece of equipment for the vegetable industry.” Sutton refers to the Steketee IC Weeder. This weeding machine is very suitable for row crops, especially the type of high value crops grown in the Salinas and Santa Maria Valleys. The machine, commonly referred to as a robotic weeder, uses camera images to calculate the position of plants and is able to hoe around them accurately and quickly.
Sutton introduced the equipment in the US market in 2015. The machine comes in two configurations. The single wide bed version has a value of about $100,000. The three-bed version sells at $230,000. “With the size of the California Ag industry, this is the way to go for very large growers,” said Sutton. In the long run, Sutton believes he will sell more single-bed ones as they are less expensive and have a broader application.
“Purchasing a weeding machine is quite an investment,” admitted Sutton. As a result, it comes down to being most beneficial for high-value vegetable, which mainly includes different lettuce varieties.
The amount of cost savings largely depends on the amount of weed pressure. “In general, the machine allows growers to save tens of thousands of dollars a year on weeding,” mentioned Sutton.
“Weeding runs at roughly $100 per acre. Making a single pass through the field with a tractor and weeder cost about $40 per acre. To stay on the safe side, costs savings are about $50/acre. For a grower with 2,000 acres, which is not uncommon in the Salinas Valley, the payback period is about two years. In some cases, the machine will be paid for in a year.”
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Tel: (831) -422-9693
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