Posted on Dec 29, 2022 at 9:30 am
Manufacturers in the sector are in a race to conquer the high-tech market, the so-called “precision” agriculture. Objectives: to always increase yields with less pollutants and make work in the field less arduous with less manpower.
Farmers have already discovered the benefits of automation. From the cab of your tractor, just press a button to advance following a pre-established route, optimized to cover the entire field without loss or overlap.
Next step: full autonomy for tractors. To get around safely, they are equipped with cameras, radars, motion sensors (so as not to run over anyone), GPS to orient themselves and a low-frequency transmission system installed by the equipment manufacturer – because not all camps have 4G.
Vehicles are programmed in advance and controlled remotely via a smartphone. The cabin is empty. However, the operator must physically stand at the edge of the field for safety reasons. In January, Deere presented its autonomous tractor prototype R8 and, in December, CNH presented its T4, which will be launched in September 2023. A variant was imagined by the Californian start-up Monarch: a tractor that tracks the farmer on foot . Foxconn will produce these trusty dog tractors in Ohio.
Invest in clean energy
Tomorrow’s agricultural machinery will have to be cleaned – because gasoline is expensive and polluting. The New Holland T4 is electric. Along the same lines, the T7 LNG prototype, designed by CNH and the British company Bennamann, uses liquefied natural gas from the methanization of cattle manure. As this fuel boils very quickly, it is stored in a cryogenic tank at low pressure. As long as he has enough livestock, the farmer will no longer need external power to move his tractor. You may even be able to resell your excess biomethane. Equipment manufacturers are also working on fuel cells and hydrogen. An American start-up, Amogy, is testing an ammonia-based fuel with Deere.
Creating a cozy nest in every furrow and “making every seed happy” is the holy grail of precision plowing. Traditionally, the farmer turns over his entire field in the same way, even if it means sacrificing some plots, as he is not able to get off the tractor every two meters to measure the compactness of the soil, the amount of residues (leaves, straw), the leveling of the surface, the presence of weeds.
It must also adapt to humidity and temperature, which vary throughout the day. If the soil is weakened, it is necessary to plow shallower. For four years now, CNH has been offering real-time measurement of crop quality, to allow tractor drivers to adjust their parameters. These configurations can now be automated and, above all, planned. Thanks to the data stored on the equipment manufacturer’s platform, the farmer, assisted by his agronomist, will be able to have a “prescribed” crop plan. It will be carried out by burying each coulter more or less as the tractor advances. This “prescription technology” allows you to go faster, consume less fuel, increase yields.
sowing and spreading
Farmers have an ideal ten-day window between late April and early May to seed their field for maximum yield. On large farms, several seed drills operate simultaneously on the same field. Hence the interest in interconnecting them, so that they cross without bumping and without sowing the same surface twice. This technology allows you to go faster, saving seeds and fertilizers.
Be it grains, fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, everything that is planted, deposited or sprayed in the field will benefit from the “recipe” established according to the spatial data of the field. Tomorrow’s farm equipment will have to be able to inject each input accurately, following the plan, at constant speed. The most advanced ones are already able not to fertilize weeds, or vice versa, not to weed sprouts of crops. In addition, companies such as Chinese DJI or start-ups offer drone spraying.
Without wasting a grain or a minute. Start-up Raven, which was bought last year by CNH for $2.1 billion, has developed an autonomous driving system that can be fitted to farm machinery to make harvesting more efficient. A single driver controls multiple vehicles.
On board the harvester, he calls a connected autonomous cart, which rolls alongside him. The two vehicles advance at the same pace in the field. The cart asks to be filled. With the articulated arm, the harvester spits out the grain in the right place in the tank. When the truck is full, it returns to the unloading point. In the meantime, another connected wagon came to pick it up, without interrupting the harvest.
For harvesting grapes, almonds or olives, Braud manufactures autopilot machines, which shake the bushes without damaging them and collect the fruits before they fall to the ground. The strays hanging over the vines can harvest at night or in the dust. Soon they will know how to separate the normal quality fruit from the superior quality, to obtain two cuvées in a single harvest.
With precision agriculture nothing is left to chance, especially the production of bales of hay to feed the animals. The New Holland baler that will be commercialized within a year is equipped with a lidar, that is, a laser scanner that makes it possible to distinguish the reliefs, in order to properly measure the contours of the long rows of hay to be collected. She will swallow each of these windrows and then spit them out in the form of tightly packed straw rectangles. In fact, GPS and on-board cameras are not enough to guess all the irregularities in the terrain. The lidar is used to calculate the volume to pack and to adjust the tractor speed accordingly. Also, to prevent the straw strands from flying away, they are tied two by two on the baler.