One of the big three European farm equipment shows alongside Germany’s Agritechnica and Italy’s EIMA, the French SIMA exhibition provided some pointers to the way arable farming’s future lies. From greater precision in crop protection product application to real-time weather data that helps aid agronomy decisions, a number of new technology concepts look likely to shape the way crops will be cared for in years to come.
Protecting the Soil
While the ability to operate wider equipment reduces passes, the impact of higher capacity but heavier equipment on soils continues to cause concern for farmers and advisers, whether land is under a conventional, minimum or no-tillage establishment system. A move towards tracked tractors has proved to provide only a partial answer, with headland smearing when turning being one downside. To this end, two systems at SIMA addressed tyred machine shortcomings.
Trelleborg’s Variable Inflation Pressure (VIP) load-based variable tyre pressure system automatically alters combine front tyre pressures according to the load in the combine tank, to maintain a constant footprint and therefore minimise soil impact and maximise traction. Pressures are raised gradually as tank load increases, governed by sensors that measure tyre deformation, pressure and temperature.
Systems allowing lowering of tyre pressures for tractor field work and reinflation for road travel are becoming increasingly popular. Michelin’s EvoBib ‘2-in-1’ field/road tread is designed to take full advantage of these by combining a conventional tractor tyre chevron pattern for field work with a full central band for road travel. When inflated to road pressure, only the central band is in ground contact, while when reduced to field/working pressure the entire tread meets the soil.
Overcoming Human and Mechanical Limitations
Autonomous tractor technology which allows machines to work around the clock when conditions are ideal and overcomes the problem of finding labour to work long fieldwork hours was evident at SIMA. CNH Industrial’s Case IH and New Holland autonomous tractors differ in that the former is a cabless machine designed to drive itself between fields only on private roads, whereas the New Holland version is cabbed, and as such can be driven to the intended field on public roads before being left to fulfil its task. Both rely on sub-2.5cm GPS for guidance and radar/lidar/sensor technology to ensure safety, with remote observation and control via desktop or tablet computer. Case IH says while immediate production is unlikely, elements of the development are likely to be incorporated into forthcoming tractors, perhaps initially in those, for example, used in orchard/vineyard work, where rigidly-formed field/tree systems could allow relatively easy adoption. The tractors can also decide for themselves whether to stop work, based on weather data, and where private roads connect fields, can be programmed to even move to other fields where conditions are drier.
Meanwhile, electrically-driven machines were another SIMA theme, with John Deere showing a battery-powered tractor. Depending on their eventual production price and the cost of charging and maintaining them, the possibility exists for such machines to reduce arable production costs by cutting the fuel requirements for establishing, nurturing and harvesting crops.
Maximising Application Accuracy
Systems for improving application accuracy were another SIMA highlight. With a slope difference of just two degrees resulting in a possible 4m reduction in fertiliser spreading width and disruption to spread pattern, Massey Ferguson’s Hydraulic Top Link Control system maintains implement angle regardless of incline, compensating not only for working on slopes, but also for the weight of the loaded spreader on the linkage and effects of front axle suspension.
Sprayer maker Amazone’s HeightSelect provides automatic height control, recognising the nozzle selection made in the firm’s AmaSelect sprayer controller, and then lowers the boom automatically to the correct ride height in the field. Horsch unveiled a system with similar attributes, labelled Autoselect. Meanwhile, John Deere showed its ExactApply intelligent nozzle system, featuring six nozzles on a rotating turret and two electrically-operated liquid valves, allowing switching between two nozzles and independent control of both spray pressure and flow rate at the nozzle. Flow rate is controlled via pulse width modulation for forward speeds of 10-30kph at a constant spraying pressure, or output from 100-300 litres/ha at a constant spraying speed. In similar fashion, TeeJet’s DynaJet Flex 7140 uses pulse width modulation to maintain constant droplet size regardless of ground speed.
Less easily visible at the show but no less important were some
smaller developments. Tameo is an online source of real-time advice
for co-ordinating crops tasks according to type and drilling date,
designed to help forecast the dates on which critical crop stages
should appear. Created by research body Arvalis and Meteo France, the
app has been developed initially for winter wheat, and can be used on
PC, tablet and smartphone. Meanwhile, other technology developments
unveiled at the show included the Sencrop real-time in-field weather
data decision support tool. Based on simple in-field weather stations
which upload weather data in real time, Sencrop is designed to enable
instant decisions to be made on application.