Technology continues to transform farm equipment as new spray systems, auto-steer products, and tire-inflation systems hit the market. And that trend is not going to end any time soon.
“There are a wide variety of options out there,” says Ryan Bergman, a technical project specialist in ag technology with Iowa State University Extension.
Anything that allows farmers to reduce inputs or labor costs has value, and there are many directions that could lead, he says.
One of the most obvious areas of change is in sprayer technology. John Deere introduced its See & Spray technology this year, and that equipment will go on sale later in the year for use next spring. That technology involves the use of cameras and computers to spot and only spray weeds.
The present version of that technology is designed for use on fallow ground, so the cameras spot anything that is green to spray. Since fallow ground systems are more prevalent in dry regions, this system is likely to be targeted primarily to the Plains states and to areas such as Australia or the Canadian plains, according to company officials. But the hope is that technological advances will allow that idea to be expanded to be used in other cropping situations.
“This is the first step of a marathon,” says Franklin Peitz, a product marketing manager with Deere.
The current system features 36 small cameras on a 120-foot spray boom, he explains. The cameras spot green plants as the sprayer moves through the field and the computer processor responds by spraying that green in about 0.2 seconds.
Peitz says testing indicates the system is accurate 98% of the time and that using it instead of a broadcast spray treatment on fallow ground can cut herbicide costs by 77%.
Other companies are working on similar items or their own systems to improve spraying efficiency.
AGCO entered into a targeted spraying agreement with several other companies this spring. It also introduced its new Fendt Rogator sprayer which is designed to be able to adjust sprayer height so it could be used later in the growing season.
AGCO has three primary guidelines when looking at new sprayer technology, according to Ben Studer, director of global product management for crop care:
- Does the technology enhance what farmers are doing today (making it more efficient)?
- Does it lower input costs for farmers (such as through targeted spraying)?
- And does a product help the farmer deal with changes such as the elimination of some current modes of action (such as the possible removal of glyphosate or dicamba as spray options)?
The new sprayer offers a platform for new technology, Studer says.
On the sprayer side of things, there are several ideas that have researchers from multiple companies trying to bridge technological and sometimes financial gaps. One possibility is to enhance something like the See & Spray tech to specifically target weeds — going from being able to spot anything green to being able to identify weeds in a green field or plants that are not in the row in a field.
Another possibility, Studer says, is the use of drones. A drone could fly over a field and map where weeds are located, and the sprayer could follow up, spraying only the areas or the plants that the drone spotted. Both of these ideas hold the possibility of allowing farmers to target spraying and by doing so to dramatically reduce the use of spray products.
“There is a large space for innovation (in targeted spraying),” Bergman says.
“There are a lot of companies looking at it,” Studer says of the idea of targeted spraying.
And there are other areas where companies are using technology to either make field passes easier or less expensive or more environmentally friendly.
Deere is one of several companies working with automatic tire inflation technology on tractors. The idea is that in a perfect world, a farmer would reduce tire pressure in some field situations to reduce compaction or to increase traction but would want it increased for safety purposes when driving on the road.
“The technology is not new,” Bergman says. “It has been used in Europe for several years now.”
The fact that the technology has hit the market in Europe before North America may have something to do with the different needs of farmers in Europe, where dual tires are used less and where roads are narrower.
More advanced auto-steer technologies may also be on the way, or other ways to make field work easier. The timelines for these technologies to reach the market are still fuzzy. Companies must not only determine whether something is technologically possible, they then must also determine whether it is safe and affordable.
It is possible, Bergman says, that companies may deploy technology that would allow a single operator to control multiple machines. Items such as automated bale movers are already hitting the market.