A post-season look back in Saint-Georges to discover how the Jardin de Valentin is doing, where Oz has been running along the organic crop rows for a year now. Using the machine, adaptation of working days, ideas for improvements and future projects, the market gardener reviews this first year of cohabitation with his weeding robot.
Since taking over the family farm devoted to cereal crops, tobacco and asparagus, Valentin Goutouly has developed and diversified the organic marketing gardening activity on a 2.5 hectare plot. In spring, he set Oz to work on his rows of broad beans, garlic, onions, and peas. With weeds having been controlled up until then with a cultivator and a hoe, the aim for him was to free up time for other tasks on the farm.
This summer, the weeding campaigns continued on the seasonal crops. The robot works once or twice a week alternately on Valentin’s different plots that are planted in rows: “Oz weeded the cabbages, leeks, celery, etc. I haven’t yet used it on potatoes because they are earthed up meaning that it is more difficult to install. Depending on the weather, the grass growth and watering, I put the robot over each crop on average every 10 days in order to ensure a satisfactory level of grass cover”.
Adapting to OZ and… adapting OZ!
The robot has blended well into day-to-day life because Valentin plans watering according to the weeding work required, and puts Oz in the plot in the morning before harvesting elsewhere. In short, he has found a rhythm that allows him to make effective use of it in the structure of his days. After these two seasons (spring and summer) using Oz, the organic market gardener is able to draw his initial conclusions. His watchword? Adapting. For example, he has noted that slightly uneven ground can affect the homogeneity of weed control, with the left-hand row sometimes being weeded better than the one on the right and inversely, which requires the robot going over the crops twice so as to ensure as much precision as possible. “It is up to me to make the necessary changes when preparing the plots for next year!”
Valentin also had the opportunity to think about the improvements he would like to see on the robot. “I had a small problem with turning around on a slightly sloping plot. For me, it would be ideal to be able to modify the programming of this manoeuvre so that it comes slightly later, even if means having to create a turning area.
Dare to believe in Oz
Valentin Goutouly agrees, you have to place your trust in it and give it a go. This is not always easy with an autonomous machine. “At the beginning, we were slightly nervous, afraid that it would cause damage, I spent a lot of time on the plot while it was working so that I could keep an eye on it. But, I used the time to do other things as well: while it was working on the broad beans, I picked the runner beans next to it. It is already a great advantage only having to need one person to watch over the robot at the same time as they harvest vegetables!”
He already has a few changes in mind that he would like to make to his farm in order to get the most out of the robot. A flatter plot to avoid problems turning around, uninterrupted 100m rows of the same variety so that Oz does its work in one fell swoop, thus reducing the need for turning around. “I’m also going to test all the separate tools that equip Oz, especially the spiked harrow on the garlic and onion crops, so that we can work on the row as well as between the rows. I haven’t had the chance to do this yet because of a lack of time, but it will mean that I don’t have to go over it by hand or with the hoe.”
Valentin Goutouly is happy to have spent time familiarising himself with his robot and says that he is satisfied with the results he has obtained. “I think it’s a tool with a future which should be given a chance. My grandfather was the first to have a tractor in the village. At the time, everybody said “it was no use” and now everyone has one. Who knows, it may be the same case for robots.”