New ideas for high-tech farming at EU's biggest show

A DRIVERLESS tractor automatically following another tractor is one of the first time farming technology breakthroughs at this year’s Agritechnica, Europe’s biggest farm machinery show.

It was one of two gold innovation award winners. There were 39 silver medal awards.

The innovation winners will be the centre of attention at Agritechnica 2011, being held from November 15 to 19 at the Exhibition Grounds in Hanover, Germany.

More than 300 innovations were submitted to the German Agricultural Society for adjudication by an impartial commission of experts, making Agritechnica the world’s most important forum for presenting new farm machinery and equipment.

The gold medal winning “Electronic Drawbar” was devised by the AGCO tractor company. The two tractors communicate via radio, and are steered by high-precision GPS, while the driver of the leading tractor monitors both vehicles, and has full access to the controls of the following tractor. Running two tractors simultaneously greatly increases driver productivity. The two smaller tractors reduce load on the soil, and can be used more flexibly than one large tractor with similar overall power.

The Krone company was the other gold medal winner, for its Ultima non-stop round baler-wrapper combination, which ends the interruption of baling for bale tying and unloading. The new technology allows bale compacting, tying and unloading to be performed continuously, thanks to use of a preliminary baling chamber. The machine includes adjustment of tractor travel speed to the baler workload. Driver burden is reduced, while machine throughput is increased by up to 50%.

Silver medal winners at Agritechnica include the Smart Key intelligent electronic key devised by New Holland. Added to a conventional key is an RFID-chip that allows only the selected driver to use machines for which he is authorised. Each authorised driver only needs one key for all machines, including old machines without RFID technology. Thus, vehicle insurance-specific requirements (immobilisers) can be fulfilled, and person-specific machinery authorisations issued.

Irish farmers trying to complete the difficult grain harvest could do with Machine Sync, a John Deere award winner. It helps grain trailer drivers, especially if dealing with several combines. Particularly useful on hilly fields, during night work, or where many small fields are harvested, Machine Sync’s transmitter-receiver system lets the trailer tractor driver know the position, direction of travel and tank filling level of the combines he is drawing from. The fullest combine can be approached first, in order to avoid waiting times and unnecessary travel on the field.

And future maize harvests could be improved with Claas and John Deere’s new near-infrared spectroscopy system for determining crop ingredients. It can determine the ingredients such as sugar, starch, protein, ADF, NDF, crude ash, and moisture content online during harvesting. This information can make for improved trading and ensiling of grass or maize, compared to having only yield and dry matter figures.

John Deere has also won an Agritechnica silver medal for the Active tractor seat, using electrical and electronic components instead of a previous hydraulic system, for faster seat adjustment, further reduction in vibration — but with a 90% reduction in the necessary electrical power requirement.

Two advances in trailer braking systems have won silver medals. Krone has adapted the electronic brake and stability system used in truck-trailer combinations for agricultural trailers. This boosts the braking safety, and counters instability of the tractor-trailer duo by selectively braking individual wheels. This is becoming increasingly important, as agricultural transport units become larger and faster.

New Holland had introduced tractor-trailer throttle braking without pressing the brake pedal, which could avoid sometimes fatal jack-knifing accidents. The system measures the tractor deceleration and calculates the deceleration forces at the drive axles. The thrust force that is dissipated via the targeted braking of the trailer is calculated from the difference. This keeps the tractor-trailer duo stable. The system works without any additional measures on the trailer, and is thus compatible with all non-muscular energy braked trailers, including modern ABS technology.

Advances in automation and optimisation of fertiliser spreading at field boundaries, on the headland and in wedges won silver medals for three companies at Agritechnica.

Rauch’s spread control for disc fertiliser spreaders takes into account precisely the different spreading patterns from fertiliser to fertiliser due to the different particle flight attributes. It is designed to save fertiliser, avoid fertiliser oversupply or undersupply to the plant, significantly improve quality and conserve the environment.

Kverneland’s GEOspread, utilising GPS control, can be used on a cross-manufacturer basis.

Amazonen-Werke’s Headland Control software takes the three-dimensional properties of the spread fan overlap into account, and adapts spreading accordingly. Amazonen-Werke also won for its Wind Control system to compensate for wind influence when using centrifugal spreaders. The spreader is equipped with a weather station that notes the prevailing wind conditions combined with an adjusting mechanism that changes the rotational speed of the spreading discs and the points of fertiliser application. It also takes different types of fertiliser with different grain size distribution into account. Computerised adjustment takes into account each fertiliser grain’s floating speed in the air. The result is a transverse distribution pattern that remains stable even under wind influence.

Innovation in crop spraying has won several awards. Nozzle function monitoring by sensors won for a joint effort by Inuma, TeeJet and Lemken. The liquid flow rate through each spray nozzle is recorded by sensors, and any malfunction is shown automatically without delay on the terminal display.

Agri Con of Germany has won a solver medal for the P3 ultrasonic sensor. It records plant stands, growth height, and leaf levels, and can be connected to sprayers to achieve precision adjustment of plant protection application rates, by altering the travel speed, spray pressure or spraying rate. The low-cost sensors can be retrofitted on the spraying booms of plant protection equipment.

Amazonen-Werke software wins a silver medal for its optimal timing of tank refilling, for minimal empty runs. It compares the area to be treated and the tramlines ahead with the product remaining in the tank, to prevent the equipment from running empty in the middle of a tramline. The last tank filling is matched to the application rate in such a way that at the end of the treatment, no residual area is left untreated and there are no unnecessary residues in the tank.

The same company wins for its Boom Wash facility that cleans the exterior of the spraying boom automatically on completion of the plant protection job. Prior to final folding in, the booms are cleaned by four nozzles that are moved along the boom on a carriage mounted beneath it. The operator can start the operation from the driver’s cab, before the plant protection agents start to dry, and without coming into contact with the spay chemicals. A new integrated clear water pump is part of the package. The Agrotop company wins with Quantofill — which draws the required quantity of liquid plant protection agent from the original package and passes it contamination-free in the correct sequence to the tank of the application equipment, and then automatically flushes and cleans itself. A package rinsing device can be used to rinse the empty containers.

Several advances in front loaders featured in the silver awards.

John Deere’s new automated front loader with electro-hydraulic parallel guide offers programmable target positions of the loader beam and loader tools, and electronic self-positioning of the loader tools over the entire lifting range.

The Fendt Cargo Profi automated front loader from AGCO includes an integrated weighing system, and additional sensor technology for new functions — two end positions for beam and tool can be pre-selected and accessed automatically, thus limiting the working range. Also added are a vibrating function, speed-dependent damping and end position damping.

Tillage farmers will be interested in two award winning advances from Lemken. Their anti-slip regulator for land rollers is designed to prevent large-diameter furrow press rollers from pushing up the soil. The impulse wheel of the drilling combination measures the speed of travel, and compares it with the rotary speed of the furrow press roller. If earth builds up, slip occurs at the roller. The slip measurement at the furrow press roller can be used to regulate the three-point lift at the tractor. Weight is shifted from the roller to the tractor rear wheels, or an implement chassis, until the slip is eliminated.

The company’s new automatic coulter pressure regulator ensures constant seed placement depth, independent of changes in ground conditions or speed of travel. A sensor at the depth guidance roller measures the changes in pressure, which are compensated by the automatic coulter pressure system, to keep the seed placement depth constant. The driver is relieved of the task of manual adjustment of coulter pressure when, for example, moving from one soil type to another.

Yet another medal for AGCO was awarded for a regulating device that relieves load on front power lifts. This achieves improved adaptation to changing ground contours while maintaining the same contact pressure of ground-guided implements — such as mulchers, mowers or snow ploughs.

Better “floating” cutting with increasingly heavier mowers at high working speeds is achieved by Krone’s Constant-float, one of the company’s five Agritechnica medal-winners.

Grimme wins a silver medal for potato lifting machinery which takes over control of the tractor steering and speed, to achieve better potato quality — and for its sensor-controlled Speedtronic in ring or transfer elevators in potato harvesters. Instead of a circulating speed set manually to the maximum necessary performance rate to avoid clogging of the upward conveyor element — which is frequently too high for varying crop throughput and risks damaging the potatoes — the circulating speed of the elevator is varied automatically for maximum filling level of the conveyor.

Weidemann’s winning innovation at Agritechnica is a user-friendly overload protection for telescopic loaders or telehandlers. This new driver assistance system automatically retracts the telescopic arm slightly before an overload situation is reached, so that overload protection does not interrupt the flow of work.

Another German company, Ludwig Bergmann, is a winner for its universal smart chassis mechatronic carrier platform designed to take any mounted agricultural equipment, and integrate rolling stabilisation, traction management, gradient compensation, level regulation, lifting axle and weighing function.

From Switzerland, Rigitrac’s individually controlled, electrically driven wheels on the tractor improve safety in hillside locations, and optimise traction on level ground.

New Holland’s award winning central knife drive is located in the middle of the cutter unit, between cutting table and guide shoe, and drives two counter-rotating knife halves outwards. The design allows easier expansion to larger cutting widths and works with no more vibration than a simple knife drive. The company describes it as a trail-blazing detail improvement in grain harvesting.

The Comprima baler wrapper combination is yet another winner for Krone. It uses a rotation angle sensor to adjust the working height of the plastic wrapper automatically, to match bale diameter. Bales from 1m to 1.75m wide can be wrapped without manual adjustment of wrapping units.

The Moisture Cable from Bintec wins for its ability to record temperature, grain moisture and atmospheric humidity continuously throughout a stack of grain, and to document grain drying progress, allowing air and heat to be adjusted optimally. It can be retrofitted in all existing driers.

The considerable potential for radar technology in agricultural machinery and equipment has been utilised by the MSO company of Germany, winning a silver medal for its “Seedector”, which measures piped product flows. This is useful in seed drilling machines or pneumatic fertiliser spreaders, for example, in detecting partial blockages, and can be easily retrofitted.

There were also silver medals for a New Holland grape harvester; the Toni Telematics innovation by several leading German manufacturers, which bundles direct data transfer of the tractor and mounted implement on the farm computer; Grimme’s Isolog online logistic management system for the entire beet value chain, from drilling to harvesting to the sugar beet factory; Krone’s first-time Isobus connections for self-propelled harvesting machines to allow free choice of GPS, laser, or camera technology steering system manufacturer; and Reichhardt’s low-cost Real Time Kinematic (RTK) satellite navigation correction signals to help farmers unable to avail of high-precision GPS steering systems.

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