January 22, 2015

Jack Zemlicka, Managing Editor

Returning from two successful, yet distinctly different agricultural events our company organized in Cincinnati, I came away with some common precision farming themes which flowed through both the second Dealership Minds Summit and the 23rd National No-Tillage Conference.

One topic of discussion I found particularly interesting was the evolving disparity between the shelf life of farm equipment vs. precision technology. It’s no surprise that the lifespan of a high horsepower tractor or combine far exceeds that of any in cab monitor, potentially by decades.

But can farmers fully maximize the longevity of a $300,000 piece of machinery, without constantly investing in the latest technology? Probably not, but in the future, it may not be as much of a concern, says Scott Shearer, professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State University.

During a discussion at the No-Till Conference on technology knocking on the door of production agriculture, Shearer says he expects in the no-too-distant future, the lifespan of farm equipment and precision technology will more closely coincide.

He suggests the cropping system of the future will include 60-70 horsepower autonomous tractors, weighing less than 10,000 pounds, with adjustable ground clearance, armed with sensing technology and able to work 24 hours, 7 days a week.

“Today, when a farmer buys a John Deere R tractor, it can last about 20,000 hours, assuming about 500 hours of use each year on a Midwest farm,” Shearer says. “That tractor could be on a farm for 40 years, but the technical value will be obsolete long before the mechanical life expires.”

The tractor and technology of tomorrow will last about 6-7 productive cropping seasons, says Shearer, and also be much more efficient and profitable for farmers. Lighter equipment means less compaction and higher yields, while automated performance equals increased productivity.

But the skeptics question the practicality of smaller implements and relying too heavily on technology. “More machines equals more things to go wrong, especially with all the electronics involved,” notes one observer at the conference.

Talking with a group of farmers at the event, they shared a similar view and likened the technical future of farming to the advent of electronics in the auto industry. Fixing a car manufactured 50 or 60 years ago requires mechanical know-how, one reason those vehicles are still on the streets today, one farmer says.

He doubts the cars of today will have the same longevity, because they rely heavily on electronics to run and the technology will likely be obsolete in another 50 years, rendering them as industry relics, not classics.

Precision dealers are cognizant of the keeping up with transitioning technology and the challenges of obsolescence. They understand that a 2-year-old GPS receiver sitting on the shelf isn’t going to become more valuable with age. One precision specialist at the Dealership Minds Summit acknowledged that one of his goals is to keep technology as relevant as possible for the right customer, because this strategy can help prolong the lifecycle of a precision product, even if it won’t outlast the tractor cab it’s mounted in.


Jack Zemlicka
Managing Editor