The prototype of an autonomous weeding machine by Swiss start-up ecoRobotix is pictured during tests on a sugar beet field near Bavois, Switzerland May 18, 2018. Picture taken May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
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Undergoing final tests before the liquid is replaced with weed killer, the Swiss robot is one of new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry by reducing the need for universal herbicides and the genetically modified (GM) crops that tolerate them.Dominated by companies such as Bayer, DowDuPont, BASF and Syngenta, the industry is bracing for the impact of digital agricultural technology and some firms are already adapting their business models.Herbicide sales are worth $26 billion a year and account for 46 percent of pesticides revenue overall while 90 percent of GM seeds have some herbicide tolerance built in, according to market researcher Phillips McDougall.For now, the industry is reviving and reformulating older, broad-spectrum agents known as dicamba and 2,4-D to finish off glyphosate-resistant weeds -- and it is selling new GM crops tolerant to those herbicides too.Experts say new products will still be needed for the new technology and some chemical firms are considering reviving experimental herbicides once deemed too costly or complex.
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