Betting the Farm on New Technologies

Betting the Farm on New Technologies

Someday in the not-too-distance future, talk about farming will no longer bring to mind images of a quaint life and simpler times. The development of sophisticated sensors and cameras, advanced automation software, artificial intelligence, and other technologies is fundamentally transforming agriculture today. In the future, farmers will need to be as comfortable behind a computer as they are behind the wheel of a tractor.

Farmers are increasingly turning to technology as a solution for feeding greater numbers of people while trying to cope with more intense competition, market pressures, and agricultural commodity price fluctuations. Increasingly, it’s apparent that the myriad challenges faced by today’s farmers will require complex and comprehensive solutions, including:

  • new farming techniques
  • more sophisticated machinery
  • improved data collection and analysis
  • more environmentally friendly practices (e.g., water conservation)

Until recently, however, the necessary technology wasn’t available to farmers. However, that’s beginning to change, and fast.

Tractors & Other Standard Farming Equipment: Out with the Old, in with the New

Tractors – essential to most farming operations – are adopting advanced technologies most quickly. Semi-autonomous and autonomous models have begun to appear on the market after years of development by companies such as Case and New Holland.

In 2020, Deere announced plans to release its innovative 8RX tractor, which is specifically designed for use in sub-Saharan Africa. This semi-autonomous machine has AI capabilities, which allow it to gather and process large amounts of information and increase productivity over time through machine learning. At Agratechnica 2019, Deere also unveiled a fully autonomous electric tractor concept as well as a semi-autonomous tractor concept that includes an advanced, more capable integrated crop sprayer.

Manufacturers are also developing the next generation of sprayers, seeders, planters, and other specialized farm equipment. High-precision models promise both productivity and efficiency gains. For example:

  • high-precision sprayers require less pesticides or fertilizers than a conventional model
  • high-precision planters ensure that seed is consistently placed in the ideal location

In 2018, Case unveiled its new 2000 Series planter, which featured the company’s Early Riser technology. The integrated, high precision Early Riser system speeds up seed germination and increases productivity. The planter is designed to:

  • simplify maintenance and the switch between seeds
  • be customized for variety of terrains, soils, applications, and crop residue management practices

Kinze will offer two high-speed planters in 2021 that are much more capable than predecessors. The 4905 planter is available in 16-row and 24-row configurations and features Kinze’s innovative True Speed system, which allows for precise seed planting at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour. To the layperson that might not sound like much, but it mean that farmers can double the amount of acres they plant per day.

New Machines Are On the Scene, Too

The technological revolution has allowed farmers to deploy machines that have never been used for agriculture before, with drones among the most hyped and the most promising. With drones, farmers are better able to observe their crops, collect data, and maintain connectivity between different pieces of farm equipment. Drones are also being outfitted to perform specific agricultural functions. In November 2019, Deere partnered with Volocopter to convert the latter’s VoloDrone drone into an autonomous aerial crop dusting system.  

Advanced software will allow farmers to adopt more sophisticated crop management techniques, leading to greater efficiency, higher yields, and increased profitability. Such software is extremely useful for data analysis, and this will allow farmers to learn and make improvements continuously.

The cloud-to-cloud DataConnect platform unveiled by Claas, Deere, and 365FarmNet at Agritechnica 2019, for example, facilitates the exchange of information between different types of agricultural machinery through a common interface. In other words, a farmer can use the DataConnect platform to operate or monitor their entire fleet of machinery via their preferred system. The platform also facilitates the exchange of data, helping farmers learn.

Technological innovation will continue to grow in importance, and many other promising technologies are being commercialized. Although there are still challenges to be overcome – hilly terrain and tight spaces among them – the pace of innovation will continue to accelerate as farmers become more familiar with what new machines, systems, and platforms have to offer.

For more information, see The Freedonia Group’s new Global Agricultural Equipment and Global Farm Tractors studies.

About the Author:

Peter Kusnic is a Content Writer with The Freedonia Group, where he researches and writes studies focused on an array of industries.