KWS Seeds, Aigen Collaborate To Develop Robotic Weed Control For Farms

Published online: Aug 31, 2023 New Products
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KWS Seeds and Aigen, an AI-driven robotics company, are teaming up to drive development of robotic and AI technology for controlling weeds, offering farmers a chemical- and carbon-free solution.

KWS and Aigen are collaborating on a project that will evaluate the performance of the Aigen on-farm robotic fleet in operating autonomously and identifying and removing weeds. The project will be carried out in sugarbeet fields that KWS supports at the North Dakota State University Agronomy Seed Farm. The project kicked off in August with Aigen Element robots in action across the two sugarbeet field locations.

“Both KWS and Aigen are focused on improving food production systems to meet the growing world demand in ways that also minimize the environmental impact of farming and the use of chemicals and fossil fuel,” says Cesar Ruano, head of sugarbeet business venture for KWS in Europe. 

“That’s our common responsibility,” adds Kenny Lee, Aigen co-founder and CEO. “This project is a great opportunity to reduce the use of herbicides and fossil fuels at the same time, while improving outcomes for farmers.” 

Aigen is an agricultural technology startup based in Kirkland, WA, that has developed a groundbreaking autonomous, scalable robotics platform for precision weed control and farm production insights, powered entirely by solar and wind energy. The Aigen Element fleet reduces the use of both agricultural chemicals and fossil fuel, while saving farmers time and money. KWS is one of the world's leading plant breeding companies and a leading ag innovation company with its Digital Innovation Accelerator (DIA) group based in St. Louis, MO, and Berlin, Germany.

“We’re committed to making the sugarbeet industry profitable and sustainable, and a key directive for that is improving weed control measures, which is a leading crop management challenge for farmers,” says Mark Schmidt, vice president of sales with KWS Seeds for North America. “We back up that forward-looking commitment by re-investing a significant part of our annual earnings back into a variety of R&D activities to advance agriculture for a better future for our customers. In the past fiscal year, this global commitment summed up to a total of $322 million. The resulting innovations range from plant breeding solutions to new digital technologies.”

Jia Yan, project manager responsible for digital innovations with the KWS DIA group, and Duane Bernhardson, KWS business development manager based in Grand Forks, ND, are working with Aigen to implement the project for sugarbeet farmers. The scope of the project includes refining artificial intelligence models to customize the robotic weed control to perform in sugarbeet fields.

“Finding a win-win solution for our common customer, commodity crop farmers, is a key driver for Aigen and KWS,” says Chris Benner, Aigen’s head of field operations. “We worked closely with farmers to understand their challenges - weeds and rising costs - and are proud to partner with KWS to help refine our solution. We are excited to deliver the first robots to sugarbeet fields here in the Red River Valley in Spring, 2024.”

“The breadth and depth of this project expands our aim to discover innovative, sustainable solutions to improve yields and reduce the use of pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural resources. Those successes will position agriculture to lead the way in climate change initiatives and environmental stewardship,” says Bernhardson with KWS. “It also expands our opportunity to bridge innovative companies with growers and the industry. We’re excited to partner with Aigen and see how this innovation will change agriculture.”

“The robotics and artificial intelligence research work complements other technology projects that the KWS DIA group is researching to help farmers,” says Yan. Other DIA projects range from digital insect monitoring and grain quality analysis, to virtual fence lines for livestock, to disease prediction and more.

“KWS provides farmers with seeds and solutions for more sustainable farming. Our motivation is to find sustainable methods for conserving resources and advancing crop management practices,” continues Yan. “We look at every field with a vision towards the future. As part of that vision, we seek to integrate robots and AI in agriculture for better plant breeding and crop production. Embracing digital innovation, we lead the way by partnering with start-ups like Aigen, advancing towards this new frontier.“

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