Microwave technology trialled to eradicate significant weeds

WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development senior research officer John Moore. Researchers are using microwaves to control gorse seed banks and bulbs, as part of a trial aimed at strengthening management of significant pest weeds. Image provided by WA DPIRD

Western Australian researchers are using microwave technology attached to an unmanned rover to control gorse seed banks and bulbs, as part of a trial aimed at strengthening management of significant pest weeds.

The project, led by the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, will develop the equipment for using microwaves to destroy intractable hard seed banks of gorse and bulbous species.

It is one of 23 projects supported by the Australian Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper funding through the Control Tools and Technologies for Established Pest Animals and Weeds Program.

Department senior research officer John Moore said gorse infestations in Western Australia were very small and under an eradication program, however the longevity of the soil seed bank meant programs must run for years to be effective.

“Microwaves have been used experimentally to control gorse and other seeds in soils under laboratory conditions,” Mr Moore said.

“There is no doubt that exposure to microwaves can break dormancy or kill seeds of some species so we are now expanding this trial to use a generator set and modified domestic microwave oven with an external antenna mounted on an unmanned platform or rover for use in the field.”

Mr Moore said the project addressed a serious gap in weed control technologies as there were currently no useful techniques for dealing with underground dormant seeds or bulbs.

“Equipment for the best field practices will be developed so that eradication of weeds can occur in a single year rather than taking decades,” he said.

“This project takes the technical theory and laboratory experience to the field to design and produce a microwave applicator and platform that can be commercialised for the control of intractable species.

“It can be placed in a paddock and left for days to slowly but surely cover several hectares comfortably.

“When developed, this technology will allow eradication of many intractable weed infestations and provide an alternative control for chemical resistant weeds and pests.

“It is non-chemical and acceptable to organic growers and consumers and can be used for control in urban, sensitive, water catchment and organic areas where chemical or cultural control may not be desirable.

“Pilots show it can also be used in bushland areas to control seed banks without seriously affecting microflora or macro-flora like trees.”

Mr Moore said the project outcomes will be used to inform the development of commercial machines and to encourage land managers involved with eradication projects to use the prototypes machines on small scale projects.

“Going forward, this initiative will ensure our farmers and land managers are on the front foot in the fight against pest weeds to limit the impact they can have on our land, produce and industries,” he said.

It has been estimated that weeds cost an estimated $4 billion a year nationally in control costs and production losses.

Source: WA DPIRD

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