A trio of French engineers fresh out of college is leading the “green-on-green” race with their startup, Bilberry, which they launched in Paris in 2015.
Despite having no agricultural backgrounds to speak of, the twentysomethings developed an intelligent spot-spraying system used on 15,000 hectares as of the first quarter 2019, saving Australian farmers an average of 93% in chemical costs.
The group at first sought to work with drones, but instead opted for cameras, which proved less complicated, Guillaume Jourdain, CEO and co-founder explains in an interview with PrecisionAg. “We wanted to create something that would matter for real people and real issues, and decided agriculture would be a good area to work in.”
“We figured if we can have cameras on booms of sprayers, it would be perfect, because farmers would work the same way they’re working today but they would spray less chemicals,” he says, adding that the company hopes to expand to the U.S. where its technology can reduce drift, as product is not sprayed onto bare soil.
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Bilberry’s technology takes the older, green-on-brown technology of the WEEDit system a step further by utilizing artificial intelligence to tell the difference between weeds and crops by color, shape, and many other features, hence the term “green on green.” It captures the images with rig-mounted cameras, spaced 3 meters apart. “For us, it’s great, because everyone knows WEEDit in Australia. For years they’ve been asking, when can we use your technology for green-on-green? Now that we offer this solution, people are eager to use it and already understand what it means, because they’ve been using it for green-on-brown for the past 10 years.”
The company currently has partnerships with European sprayer manufacturers Agrifac and Berthoud. Its technology is used in wheat, barley, and sugar beet in Australia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Bulgaria, and Austria, and it aspires to expand further into Eastern Europe, as well as North and South America – “markets where you can realize big savings and it’s easier to buy the technology,” Jourdain says.
There is a lot of work to do, he explains. Expanding to row crops and adding other applications, such as fertilizer, fungicides, and insecticides, are top priorities. “I think spot spraying technology will become the standard in the future. In less than 10 years we believe it’s going to be the norm.”
As for the origins of Bilberry name, after the wild European blueberry plant, Jourdain says, “we wanted an English name, because we knew from the beginning that it was meant to be international company.”