The progress of digitalisation continues apace and is rapidly leaking beyond the boundaries of tractors and the control of operations to mechanical implements doing their own thing while the tractor merely pulls it along.

Over the last couple of years, manufacturers have eagerly bought up smaller companies that specialised in the once rather quaint pastime of interrow weeding.

Adapting traditional practices

The method has now shed its 'Cinderella' image and has gone mainstream in a big way, with millions being invested in bringing the tools into the digital age.

Lemken is the latest company to cast money in the direction of the concept with the announcement of an £15 million plan to build a new factory for its Steketee subsidiary in the south of The Netherlands.

The facility is scheduled to open its doors at the end of 2023 and will employ at least another 30 members of staff.

Netherlands Lemken Anthony Mechanical
Nicola Lemken and Anthony van der Ley at the site of the new factory

Steketee has been focusing on the use of cameras to guide its interrow cultivators neatly between crop plants since 2007.

The all seeing AI

Going forward, the company is also to concentrate on the use of plant recognition to enhance the weed control properties of its mechanical hoeing machines.

Lemken’s managing director, Anthony van der Ley, explains the reasons for constructing this new facility:

“We want to invest significantly more in product development to build on Steketee’s position as an innovator, e.g. with the use of artificial
intelligence (AI).”

Steketee is obviously seen as Lemken's portal into the brave new world of smart farming.

Steketee interrow Mechanical cultivator
The Steketee IC Weeder is an automatic intra-row hoeing machine for vegetables

There is only so much that can be done with the humble plough, and it appears that the company is keeping up with digital developments by placing its weight solidly behind alternative methods of weed control.

Cooperation brings synergy

However, many companies are also coming to realise that they cannot develop and implement new technologies alone, and so collaboration with research institutes and even other companies will be a necessary part of the mix.

Nicola Lemken, board member and the seventh generation of the Lemken family to be involved with the company, expands upon the choice of the location and how she sees the future:

“The attractive environment is also important for further recruiting requirements. In addition, we will combine the creative design of the new building with the opportunity to establish ourselves as an experienced and innovative partner for other companies, for universities and colleges, and to offer a springboard for students or start ups."

Mechanical weed control is rapidly becoming the new spraying. However, it does suffer from several drawbacks, the chief one being the narrow working width.

Wide sprayers reduce field traffic and hence the area subjected to soil compaction. They also reduce the number of passes needed to cover a field; this may, to a certain extent, be offset by the reduced weather dependency of mechanical hoeing.

Sprayer or mechanical hoe?

Whatever the pros and cons of the method, Lemken has now abandoned the concept of chemical weed control and has firmly pinned its colours to the hoe.

Whether this will prove to be a competive move, when other companies are adapting AI to administer ultra precise chemical control, remains to be seen, yet it is still an attractive option in many situations.