In the agricultural and horticultural sectors, weeds must be controlled to prevent them from competing with crops for light, water and nutrients. In addition, weeds can have a detrimental effect on crop quality and may function as host plants for diseases and pests. Failure to control weeds can result in significant financial losses of up to 34%. The majority of weeds are controlled through herbicides, which have the advantage of being cost effective. The disadvantages of herbicides, however, are their potential side effects on the environment and the development of resistance to herbicides.
The foremost characteristic of weed populations is their variability in space and time, which is influenced by the cultivation system. Surviving seeds and other survival structures in the soil ensure the long-term impact of the cultivation measures on weeds, and this remains the primary reason for growers to use herbicides.
Contrary to diseases and pests, the importance of weeds is often underestimated due to their chronic nature. Despite the use of control measures, the current total loss of revenue in the European Union due to weeds is estimated to be 10%.
The growing herbicide resistance of weeds in conjunction with societal concern about the adverse effects of herbicides on the environment compel us to seek out sustainable cultivation systems that are less dependent on chemical crop protection agents. To decrease the use of herbicides while simultaneously preventing the growth of weed populations, we are working on integrated weed control systems. These systems are based on knowledge about weed biology and the ecology of crop-weed interactions.
The variability of weeds in space and time can be tackled through the use of new advances such as vision technology. Intelligent combinations of crop rotation, physical and mechanical control methods and dispensing herbicides through smart application techniques are all part of our ongoing research.