Reheating the leftover weeds

Microwave weed control research is starting to simmer


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Dr Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne with a proof of concept prototype of microwave weed control

Dr Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne with a proof of concept prototype of microwave weed control

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Microwave weed control research is starting to simmer

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IT HAS been a long road for microwave weed control technology, proving there are no shortcuts when it comes to research. 

University of Melbourne, senior lecturer food and agriculture, Dr Graham Brodie has been working on microwave technology in one form or another since the 1980s and specifically for weed control since 2006. 

“I became aware herbicide resistance was becoming an increasing issue,” he said. 

“As an electrical and electronic engineer, I took what I knew, particularly about microwaves, to try to solve that problem.”

Dr Brodie said microwave technology could combat herbicide resistance on a number of fronts. 

“Firstly it is a completely different mode of action to chemical control,” he said. 

“It physically explodes the cells inside the weeds.

“Or it cooks and deactivates the germination of the seeds.”

Dr Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne with a prototype of microwave weed control

Dr Graham Brodie from the University of Melbourne with a prototype of microwave weed control

Dr Brodie said destroying plants which had already emerged only took a moderate amount of microwave energy, while controlling the seedbank required enough to heat the top few centimetres of soil. 

“By heating the soil itself, more like a soil fumigant approach, we somewhat control the seed-bank,” he said. 

Dr Brady said because the technology is completely different from herbicides, the technology can reset the paddock.

“Herbicide resistance often starts off as a bit of a patch in peoples paddocks,” he said.

“So we could control that patch and then the grower could go back to controlling the paddock through herbicide rotation.

Dr Brodie said while he couldn’t say when the technology would become available, he hoped it would be sooner rather then later. 

“The technology has progressed past the basic research stage,” he said. 

“The University is in conversations with a couple of companies about  commercialisation.

“I’m excited, this is something I have been working on for quite a long time and it’s nice to get to this stage.

Dr Brodie said the initial fit for the technology was unlikely to be widespread broadacre weed control. 

“Ultimately it would be nice to do things on a broadacre scale, but I don’t think this will be the early adoption,” he said. 

A microwave weed control prototype in the paddock

A microwave weed control prototype in the paddock

“I think it is going to be in things like horticulture, roadside weed control and fencelines. 

Dr Brodie said management of headlands and channels where dense weed populations can act as a source for the paddock would also fit the technology. 

“These harbour some of our herbicide resistance problems,” he said.

Dr Brodie is confident after over 30 years of research microwave technology is close to being seen in the paddock.  

“At this stage we are on the threshold of the next step,” he said.

“Its not going to be immediate available but it is certainly on its way.

Safety

A concern for the broadscale utilisation of microwave technology have been safety implications to the user and environment.

Dr Brodie said his team kept safety front of mind during development. 

“There are international standards with regards to exposure to radiation of any type,” he said. 

“The designs I have been working on have always been with that in mind. 

“So we make sure operators and the public are not exposed to anything beyond those standards.”

Dr Brodie said while Melbourne University was the long-term driver of the research, recent work had been funded by the Grains Research Development Corporation and AgriFutures (formerly known as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation).

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The story Reheating the leftover weeds first appeared on Farm Online.

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