As the world’s largest farm technology exhibition, Germany’s biennial Agritechnica is much more than a national event. Preceded by entries for – and judging of – the show’s innovation awards scheme, for new developments set for commercial production in the immediate or near future, it attracts manufacturers supplying global markets, many of whom enter innovative products into the show’s awards scheme. This year, a number of the winners produced developments of particular relevance to improvements in arable productivity.
Agritechnica awards reveal innovative research
Agritechnica show in Hanover, claimed to be the world’s largest display of agricultural technology and innovation, saw a number of new concepts displayed for the first time, many of which received awards in the medal scheme of show organizer the DLG
Serious problems with the corn borer pest in European maize crops, causing yield and quality losses from poorly-developed cobs then at risk from fusarium infestation, which may spread to the following wheat crop, is sparking new research into control methods. Beyond chemical and biological options, one of the most important control methods is thorough maize stubble chopping to prevent the borer overwintering. German firm Kemper won a gold innovation award for its StalkBuster solution, said to be the first stubble-destruction technology that forms an integral part of a forage harvester’s maize header, allowing this to be performed during harvesting. Claimed to be the only machine on the market that destroys all the stubble before it is driven on by the forage harvester or the tractor and trailer, the topper is integrated in the header, is relatively lightweight and has a relatively low power input requirement.
The second gold medal winner was Claas, with its CEMOS Auto Threshing system for its larger combine models. Currently, combine operators have to find out by trial which settings strike the best balance between the optimum drum speed, the optimum concave gap, thorough threshing and grain quality. Because of the difficulty of this complex process, combines are rarely set up optimally to suit the prevalent harvest conditions.
Depending on the strategy entered into the in-cab terminal by the operator – minimum losses, maximum output, minimum grain damage, or a relative blend of all three – CEMOS Auto Threshing sets drum/rotor speed and concave gap for optimum results according to harvest conditions such as overall crop moisture. Each individual sensor in the system communicates with the others so that, for example, the throughput controller operates via a special communication module to control the throughput relative to the threshing controller, as well as the separation and cleaning controllers. The result is more harvested grain, a cleaner sample, and fewer volunteers in following crops from grain leaving the back of the combine.
With mechanical weed control in row crops becoming more important, John Deere’s AutoTrac Implement Guidance, a silver medal winner, acts as an active steering system for camera-guided rowcrop hoeing that shifts the hoe using the tractor’s hydraulic three-point linkage stabilizers, for maximum weed control efficacy and minimum crop damage. Positioning is controlled by a tractor-integrated control circuit that provides feedback on the hoe units’ current position. The control system uses the camera signal from the implement and calculates the distance between the implement and the detected rows of crop. Hydraulic coulters are lowered into the ground behind the tractor to absorb the side draft that develops as the implement moves to either side, improving accuracy on slopes and at high work rates. Using ISOBUS III implement-tractor connectivity, the system can also control the tractor ground speed.
Claas also won a silver for similar technology. Its Culti Cam system employs a single ‘stereo’ camera with two lenses to provide 3D footage of the crop, and also incorporates an automatic camera height and angle detection feature. A proportional valve on the hydraulic cultivator frame then aligns the hoe units in parallel with the rows. This system is said to provide more accurate row control where weed burdens are heavy, because it profiles the field along the ridges, irrespective of the leaf colouring. It also reduces losses due to steering errors, allows the hoe to be used in windy weather and in small crops, minimizes operator stress, increases work rates and allows hoeing to take place earlier in the year.
Amazone’s SwingStop pro, a silver medal winner, combines its sprayer boom’s active shock absorbing system with dynamic rate control on each individual nozzle, to counter the effects of boom movement on spraying accuracy. Newly-designed valves on every nozzle constantly control the current application rate and make corrections by using sensors that measure the relative application rate on each nozzle. It then relates the measurements to the sprayer’s ground speed in real time.
Tractor maker Fendt also won silver for its MARS System, claimed to be the first marketable application of swarm technology in agricultural engineering, and proposed as a future alternative to large tractors and other machines.
The system is based on the concept that, as precision application and fieldwork become ever more targeted, a number of small, auto-steered and electrically-driven units could be deployed into fields in place of traditional heavy, diesel-fuelled tractors.
Designed in the first instance for crop drilling, the autonomous units are filled with seed by an operator, who monitors their operation. Operating at very low noise levels and without lights at night, the units can, as such, work at any time and in all locations without causing disturbance. Weighing as little as 40kg each, the swarm units coordinate their work in the field, reduce compaction and minimize the hazard that big machines pose to humans and the environment, suggests the maker. They also log job data directly into the Cloud, and communicate with each other and the operator via wireless technology.