One man's junk may well be many others' good fortune with the latest innovation of Hawke's Bay agricultural contractor Andy Lysaght, who last month won two major national awards with an 18-month-old invention known as the Andweeder.

Designed to eliminate hand-weeding of crops, it started a year-and-a-half ago as a raw prototype scrapped together from unwanted bits of metal in his Omarunui shed to win the Ravensdown Innovation Award at the National Horticultural Field Day in Hastings and then the Launch New Zealand Innovation Award at the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek, south of Hamilton.

Now a marketable item and in the process of being patented in 148 countries, its target is the weeds among squash, where fine-tuning and field trials have seen error rates cut to near perfect.

Ongoing development is expected to adapt the Andweeder to other crops, with some degree of astonishment from Fieldays judges who commented: "This product brings a step change to the industry, converting an intensive manual process to an automated and precision process. In doing so, they've solved a long-standing problem that has bamboozled hi-tech machine vision technology."


In short, where infra-red sensors have to date failed, touch-triggered mechanics is succeeding, as highlighted in one trial when 20 hectares was split in half and it was machine against man. A three-row Andweeder did in 6hrs 45mins what otherwise needed 125 man-hours when done by hand.

It's Hawke's Bay ingenuity, says Mr Lysaght, who is keen for manufacture to be kept as much as possible in Hawke's Bay, to reward the many people who helped, from engineering and design consultants to the investors who helped set up Plant Detection Systems to run with the project, or more generally specialise in developing innovative technology cost-effectively to benefit the various sectors of the agricultural industry.

"All the small guys have got to get some payback," he said this week, as he sat in his cluttered shed with the now dusty prototypes which led the project through its early stages.

Behind the project was a client who was sick of having to have weed picked from his crops by hand, something which never found a lot of favour with the labour force, and something for which there just had to be a better and more cost-effective way.

"You're pretty good at making things up," the client told him - and that was all that was needed to get him into the workshop.

"I like playing in the shed," said Mr Lysaght, whose love of machinery goes back at least 45 years, to when he first drove a tractor at the age of 9 on the family farm in the Dorie district, on the southern side of the Rakaia River in Canterbury.

Last year, the Andweeder was a "Grassroots" category finalist at Fieldays and needed more work, and the end-product seen by the judges at Fieldays last month he calculates was about the "Mark 5" model.

"Really, it's a special thanks to all of those who trusted me when we first came up with the idea, and they are still with us," he said. "It's a credit to Hawke's Bay skill and resources."