Machinery and Equipment: Pressure for productivity drives farm technology on

With every product launch and press release, there is always new boasting of innovations and advancement in technology.

Machinery and Equipment: Pressure for productivity drives farm technology on

No longer is a simple and clever piece of engineering seen as enough to excite the potential customer.

Everything now seems to require Isobus compatibility or a smartphone application, somewhat isolating the company that dares make a launch announcement without some key technology buzz wording included.

So what does this mean for the future of the machinery working in the Irish fields?

Well, never before is so much food production being demanded from so few farmers, and new technology will be required to help them achieve this.

A recent statement I heard regarding the world population and food demand scared me.

In the next 35 years, a decreasing number of farmers will need to produce more food than all of the world’s food production combined over the last 2,000 years.

It is a staggering statement.

Recent machinery shows in Europe and the US provided evidence of what may be around the corner technologically, to help Irish farmers achieve progress to the level that world food demand will require.

Let’s start this glance into the future with the tractor. The tractor itself seems not to be changing too dramatically.

The horsepower will increase, and manufacturers will battle to get the weight ratio balanced, as soil needs to be protected from damage if it is required to produce more.

It is not inevitable that with advancement in field mapping and GPS, the driver may not be required for some operations.

We are already seeing this in the motor industry, as companies like Google and Volvo, to name just two, are well advanced in testing the prototype driverless car.

It is in farm implements that the bigger advances are beginning to show. I mentioned Isobus already, this is the worldwide standard that enables tractors and implements to communicate.

The universal aspect of Isobus does away with monopolies of tractor brands with regards to implement usage, in the same way as the USB cable standardised connector did away with unique branded phone chargers, as required by EU law.

Isobus III is the next advancement in the technology. This will now not only allow the operator and the tractor to communicate with the implement, but will also allow the implement to relay back commands to instruct the tractor what to do.

An example of early use of this technology is the New Holland Intellicruise Feed Rate Control System on their BigBaler large square baler models. The baler instructs the tractor to increase or decrease speed, based on the size of crop intake at that moment.

Technologies like this will mean both tractor and machine are always operating in the most efficient way possible. Advancement in this area will lead to implements becoming more intelligent than the tractors powering them.

This is further demonstrated when it comes to seed, fertiliser or pesticide applications.

Instead of human judgement of an application rate on average for the field, application implements will have the intelligence for a precision placement for each plant.

Sensors and cameras are used so that the ground or plant is monitored in real time, and the implement reacts with the appropriate amount of seed, fertiliser or pesticide, where necessary.

This technology is now being incorporated into solar powered field robots (by AGCO, to name just one company advanced in this area of research) and drones. So tractors may not be necessary for this type of work in future.

These machines will also do away with the soil sampling cone and waiting for lab analysis results, because ‘on the move’ soil sampling is becoming possible, and its accuracy will be advancing continually.

Whether on an implement or within the field robot or drone devices, mounted sensors will be able to feed back real time analysis of soil texture, pH, and organic matter.

This would be an advanced use of the drone technology which is becoming more common on farms already. Their early use is mainly for surveillance. They are used for herding cattle, or to give an aerial view of crops which can tell more about a crop’s condition than walking through it.

By getting high above the crop with a drone, a farmer can see areas of crop stress that could otherwise be missed.

This information becomes valuable, once the data is stored, building up over the years to create a personal advisor.

This is where machinery takes the next step. With years of information stored, the data storage has more information about your land than any agronomist.

New applications are emerging to turn this data into easy-to-read predictive data analysis. A bit like what is happening in the electronic heat detection industry for cattle.

All this technology is reducing in price because of smartphones and cloud computing.

Any one with a smartphone now has a personal monitor in their pocket to input, output or illustrate data.

With regard to crop production, this database will in time enable a farmer to get a simulated response to each course of action he takes. It’s similar to listening to an agronomist’s advice, but informed by factual history of the piece of ground built up over the years.

For example, if you spread a certain rate of nitrogen, what response would a field give? Or if a week of heavy rain is forecasted, is preventative action required on any individual section of a field?

When it comes to harvesting, recent show launches have shown combine header advancements, overcoming limitations of current designs.

Flexi-heads and multiple heads will open up land otherwise considered unsuitable for tillage due to gradient or uneven surfaces. No longer will they be restricted to following crop rows or angle approaches. Fields can be cut in the GPS-calculated’ most efficient way possible.

These are just some of what is visible coming down the tracks so that food production will increase at the requiired rate, for the limited labour force available, and ensuring that it is produced in the most effective way possible.

The answer is in technology, and agriculture will need to be one of the most technologically advanced industries to achieve the food production targeted for 2050.

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