The Farm Progress Show is often a hotbed of new developments in the precision farming industry. Precision Farming Dealer editors were on the lookout for the top trends for dealers to consider at the 2016 event in Boone, Iowa. Here are three of the most talked about tidbits from the event.
Autonomy in Agriculture
For several years, UAVs and their potential benefits have been on everyone’s lips, and while that’s still the case in some circles, a different autonomous type of vehicle garnered much attention this year.
Case IH’s autonomous concept vehicle, revealed at the show for the first time. Company Vice President Jim Walker credits advances in technology and the current economic climate for the manufacturer’s development into autonomous technology.
“With the slim margins we are seeing in cash crop operations today, we’re looking for productivity in an innovative product line,” says Walker. “Ten or 15 years ago if you looked at the costs of the sensor and radar applications needed to build a useable autonomous tractor, they were cost prohibitive. But as things got more advanced, they got cheaper and with the economy and technology as they are now, autonomous tractors are becoming a perfect match for today’s fields.”
New Holland also released their NHDrive concept autonomous tractor and Farb Guidance Systems announced plans to unveil their 200 horsepower driverless tractor by end of 2016. Dave Farb, CEO and founder of Farb Guidance Systems, says their solution will be significantly lighter than traditional tractors and is likely retail for around $250,000.
“Once you take the operator out of the picture, you realize quickly that autonomous tractors don’t have to be the size of more traditional ones,” says Farb. “Over the past several decades, equipment has just gotten bigger and bigger, almost to the point where it’s unreasonable. With autonomous tractors, it actually makes sense to go smaller because you can have several out working in the field at once and they can run around the clock.”
Walker says that while various hurdles — technological, economic and regulatory — may still lie ahead, the concept’s time has come.
“As an industry, the idea of driverless tractors has been evolving for 10-15 years,” says Walker. “Things have gotten much more serious over the last 4-5 years. The two things that need to happen are getting farmers to adopt them and getting all the legislation needed to operate them. Right now we do have autonomous vehicle authorization legislation in place in California, Florida and by decree in Arizona.”
Another trend floating around the show was the growing enthusiasm of precision farming equipment’s late-adopters. Michael Gomes, vice president of business development at Topcon Precision Agriculture, has noticed consumers that were perhaps a bit resistant to the idea of precision technology initially have started taking the potential benefits of adding it to their operations more seriously.
“In a year like this, the first most significant trend we see from customers is show me the value. Whether it’s improving accuracy, changing tillage methods, multiple operations in a single pass, variable-rating or on-the-go nitrogen sensors, growers are starting to realize they need just a bit more of a boost to keep surviving and thriving each year,” says Gomes. “Wanting to squeeze just a bit more value out of everything is causing them to focus. Late-adopters seem to be saying to themselves that it’s time to bite the bullet.”
Jeff Farrar, vice president of sales at Ag Junction notes that as certain precision technologies mature, they become more palatable to farmers who once may have found them to be more trouble than they were worth.
“A lot of the equipment isn’t nearly as intimidating as it once was,” he says. “There are plenty of systems out there so that can be a bit mind boggling, but as we design new software and hardware, we are keeping in mind that not everyone has a ton of experience with other gear. We strive to make it simpler and simpler so late adopters can pick it up without an issue.”
Trimble Navigation training manager, Wade Stewart, visited with show attendees who were still getting their first looks at even the most cornerstone precision technology. While the equipment gap may be surprising, it’s an opportunity for targeted sales.
“Even at a such a large trade show like this we still have a lot of customers come up to us that don’t have any sort of assisted steering systems on their equipment,” says Stewart. “A lot of times it’s easy to take for granted that everyone has some of the more mature technologies equipped and should recognize the benefit of them, but that’s not the case. We also have customers who may have put precision guidance on one machine on their farm, but they have a tillage tractor or sprayer that doesn’t have anything on it.”
Simplicity & Functionality
Certainly not a new trend in precision agriculture, the push toward complex equipment that is still easy-to-use remains a prevalent topic. Travis Becton, director of North American marketing for John Deere, points out that for the last 50 years, innovations in farm equipment have been centered on the bigger, faster and stronger. While this can still be true in some sense, it’s not the whole picture anymore.
“Equipment also needs to be intelligent and easy-to-use now,” says Becton. “Technology with fast and widespread adoption, like guidance, has been both those things. Variable-rate planting has had a bit more trouble taking off as fast. I think part that is due to getting only one data point per year. Over a lifetime that might only be about 40 data points. That makes proving value and using it effectively a little bit harder.”
While simplicity and functionality are sales imperatives, these forces are driving design as well. An example of this was the reveal of the new combination vehicle launched by inventor Ben Dillon at the event. The Tribine, was designed around the idea of a single person harvest, without the need for a separate grain cart and tractor running through the field and adding to soil compaction. It also eyes a future that will stretch to around-the-clock productivity.
“The machine’s mission is to reduce the farmer’s costs and compaction,” says Dillon. “The fuel tanks on it are 250 gallons per side, fillable from the ground, which will allow it to run for 24 hours straight. We believe that in the future combines with be running 24/7.”