Electricity as an alternative to phyto products

The Australian phytosanitary giant Nufarm is teaming up with a German start-up to develop an electricity-based topkilling system.

Potato fields as far as the eye can see. At the end of winter, the perfect alignments streak the land with geometric shapes. But at the end of summer, when the uprooting season begins, the plots offer a gaunt face, the leaves of the potato plant have been killed using phytosanitary products to stop the growth of the tuber and allow to collect only this one, with a minimum of waste.

But under the European Green Deal, the use of these defoliating products is increasingly limited and many constraints. By 2030, the use of pesticides, in particular, will have to be reduced by 50%. And the same goes for other phyto products, which allow plants to be treated or treated. With the aim of moving towards an increasingly organic diet. For the major producers of these products, it is therefore time to look for alternatives.

Nufarm is an Australian group active in the sector, which is among the world’s top 10. Like its competitors, it must find replacement solutions to compensate for theprohibition of certain products in Europe exclusivelysuch as Diquat, a widely used herbicide for chemical topkilling of potato plants.




The tractor powers a generator whose electricity is transmitted to the plant by anode and catode brushes. The high voltage electric current (up to 5500 volts) destroys the vascular system of the plant.

One solution comes from electric topkill. The German start-up crop.zone is developing this system. Rather than carrying a tank of chemical and a gigantic sprayer that delivers it, the tractor feeds a generator whose electricity is transmitted to the plant by anode and cathode brushes. The high voltage electric current (nearly 5,000 volts) destroys the plant’s vascular system.

“The system has been known for about ten years, but crop.zone makes it more efficient and more efficient by adding the spraying of a liquid electrolyte that improves the electrification of the plant. This conductor of electricity, which dissolves the cuticle (the protective layer) of the plant, is developed in partnership with Nufarm”, specifies Gilles Callens, sales accountant manager Benelux of Nufarm, who is testing the solution in the Netherlands and Belgium. , as part of Nucrop, the joint venture with crop.zone.

“The cultivation of potatoes is widespread in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and northern France, notably. These are key markets, where we can strengthen ourselves with this new technology,” he added.

“Nucrop makes the technology more efficient by adding the spray of a liquid electrolyte that improves the electrification of the plant.”

Gilles Callens

Sales Accountant Manager Benelux at Nufarm

For the farmer, top dressing is an essential step before harvesting. But she must go as quickly as possible to better control the timing of the harvest. With traditional phyto products, the time required to completely kill the tops is usually 21 days and requires several sprays. “Current electric brooms are limited to 12 m wide, compared to 30 meters for conventional sprayers. But this system generally requires only one pass instead of three or four and its efficiency is less dependent on the weather”, says note Herbrecht Muys, technical adviser Nufam Benelux. Crop.zone, which has just raised more than 11 million euros, is currently working on a 24 m wide brush support.

By reducing the waiting time for the complete disappearance of the tops, the farmer can harvest earlier or wait for a better maturity of the potato, to better control the caliber. “With a yield gain that can be increased”, further notes Muys.

Few nuisances

Given the gradual disappearance of herbicides in Europe, the current alternatives are crushing, uprooting or gas burning. “The first two are the simplest, but they can harm the plant and only allow you to work small areas at a time. They therefore require many passes and a longer working time. Gas burning is simply currently out of price”, points out Muys. According to the system designers, electrification also does not harm the quality of the potatonor to underground life, necessary for the quality of the earth.

During the last year, two machines were tested in the Netherlands and one in Belgium. These tests will continue again this year for marketing from 2023.”The technology will also be adaptable to other types of field preparation work. But given the investment, and even if it improves the productivity of the culture, it nevertheless requires large areas to offer sufficient profitability”, further points out Gilles Callens.

The summary

  • The gradual ban on agricultural herbicides in Europe is forcing producers of phytoproducts to reinvent themselves.
  • Australian giant Nufarm is teaming up with German start-up crop.zone to develop a topkiller that electrifies the plant.
  • The technology is being tested in particular in Belgium, for marketing in the course of next year.

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