Croatian Agronomist Developing Application to Identify and Control Weeds

Lauren Simmonds

As Novac/Filip Pavic writes on the 5th of March, 2020, Filipa Burul, a Croatian agronomist and 23-year-old student at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, is working on the CroCot mobile application, which is a “weed specialist”. The application is one that will allow farmers, through their smartphones, to identify the type of weeds growing among their crops and get information on how to control them with herbicide.

With this idea, this young Croatian agronomist applied for the Student DIGI Award, organised by Jutarnji list, which selects the best young innovator and managed to enter into the final round of the top ten best innovations.

Born in Kastel Kambelovac, Filipa came to the Faculty of Agronomy in Zagreb five years ago to study phytomedicine. She is currently in her final year, and she has been in love with biology since childhood.

”I know it’s a little unusual for someone from that area to come to study agronomy. We’re not very well known for farming down there. When I became interested in biology in high school, my mum suggested I enroll in that college. People may refuse because they think it has to do with fields, hoes and digging, but that’s not the case at all,” the talented Croatian agronomist says.

A new trend in agriculture, as it is in many other branches, is digitalisation. That’s why, with the support of her mentor, Klara Buric, a professor at the Institute of Herbology, Filipa started developing a CroCot weed recognition and suppression application that she plans to complete by the end of the year.

”Weeds are all plant species that we don’t want to grow and pose a constant problem for farmers. They germinate a lot, which means they can be in the soil for years and wait for the right opportunity. It’s impossible to know that they’re there. In addition to the seeds being in the soil, they’re easily transported with wind, tractor tyres, shoes, and they’re often transmitted by animals. You know how often animals get thistles stuck to them, that’s how weeds are dispersed,” she says, giving a common example of seeds sticking to the fur of passing animals.

This remarkable Croatian agronomist is currently working on a large database of photographs of all types of weeds that occur in Croatia. Once completed, the mobile application would function so that the farmer captures a photo of the weeds with the camera on his mobile phone at an early stage of development, and then, on the basis of the collected photo database, analyse the image, that is, the colour, length and width of the leaves and other morphological characteristics of the plant, and receive suggestions on which herbicide is most effective in controlling it and in what amount.

”The application will be linked to the database, which will allow the optimal solution to be withdrawn from the database after the determination of the type of weed, ie, to properly select the herbicide according to its legally registered purpose. The farmer, without the application, would have to search independently in the Plant Protection Newsletter,” she explains.

Not all herbicides are suitable for all weeds. As Filipa says, there are 190 different species with different spectrums of activity in Croatia. The improper use of herbicides isn’t good for the soil, and it is not effective either because weeds produce resistance very quickly. An example of such a weed is ragweed. This particular plant causes many allergic reactions is widespread and resistant, primarily due to the misuse of herbicides.

”Herbicides have a bad reputation, but we have to use them, we have no choice at the moment. However, proper application must be done. The application recognises weeds in the cotyledon stage. It is then when they’re at their most vulnerable and can be suppressed with a very small amount of targeted herbicide,” she says.

An additional problem for farmers is that at this stage of development, the plants look completely different from the flowering plants and it’s almost impossible, without extensive experience, to know what the weeds actually are.

In addition to farmers, users of the application could also be agricultural associations, cooperatives and organisations of agricultural producers, and agricultural pharmacies as distributors of pesticides. In addition, as this Croatian agronomist says, it would also benefit high schools and colleges when it comes to agriculture or food production. According to her, knowledge transfer between faculties and hands-on practice is still very weak.

”I hope that the application may one day be an open platform to treat insecticides or fungicides in the same way, in short, a place where all forms of protection against all pests can be found quickly. However, as of now, the use of herbicides, by comparison with other agents, is the dominant means of protection, by as much as 46 percent. In the future, I hope the application could also offer some non-chemical weed control solutions,” concludes this innovative young Croatian agronomist.

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