By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer
The future is here and now for the farming industry. Like something out of a science fiction movie the newest agricultural machines on the market can think, communicate and self-guide. These smart machines can save farmers time, money and effort.
Colin Musgrove is the Integrated Solutions Specialist at Cervus Equipment John Deere in Brooks, Alberta. He has spent 30 years in the agricultural machine business and has seen a lot of changes over the years, but he still finds himself astonished by the advances he has seen in the past decade. One of the biggest advances Musgrove points to is the instant data sharing now available on most new farm machines. He predicts the greatest innovations in this area are yet to come.
“The ease of sending data from the desktop to the tractor and back without using other tools other than your phone, or through telematics systems, is growing more important all the time.”
Musgrove explains further.
“Sprayers can collect the data, combines can collect the data, seeders can collect the data, and when you leave the field, and I am speaking about that field specifically, it will send the data to a Cloud based system. And you can grab that information anytime or anywhere. I think this is the innovation technology (manufacturers and equipment dealers) are scrambling to get to.”
Musgrove says with so much detailed data at their fingertips farmers will be able to make better choices in all areas of their operations.
“Everybody is trying to control their input costs and make decisions on how to market their grain. When you have real time numbers of what your harvest is that gives you a huge advantage. There is no guesswork in it anymore. You can say precisely what you have done in that field, and it’s all in real time.”
GPS technology and its offshoots for next generation guidance systems in farm vehicles is another area where Musgrove says there has been astonishing progress.
“There were a few early adopters that took GPS on, and now there are more and more people that can see the advantage in it. You can see that in your fatigue level at the end of the day and your cost savings by not overlapping if you are doing large acres. It takes that stress off you from trying to drive down that same line all day. With all the new equipment now that (computer) guidance is integrated into it whether the customer opts out of it or not.”
According to Musgrove farmers will be blown away by the next wave of these guidance systems.
“One other thing that really has a lot of pressure to get going is map-sharing between vehicles so you can see where all the other machines are in the field. That way when you are harvesting you can map what the other combines harvested. Or when you are spraying or seeding, your runs will shut off when you hit the coverage area of the other unit. John Deere introduced it this spring and introduced section control on drills as well. That really helps when you have odd shaped fields and pull into an area that has already been seeded and paints it off (in map-sharing). When the second drill comes in it sees that it starts shutting off runs so you don’t double-seed the acres you already seeded.”
Shared mapping also includes being able to link up multiple machines and operators in a seamless way to get the most efficient coverage in the field.
“With guidance-line sharing you have, say, five combines in the field so the first guy pulls into the field and sets the A-B (guidance) line and sends that line out to the other units, and, if they are the same width, they can pull into the field and the first guy has the line and the next guy will get the line beside it and the next guy will get the line beside that and so on. They are all going to be equidistant part based on that first line. With these new systems it is all done automatically,” says Musgrove.
But by far the greatest potential innovation in guidance now coming into Alberta and Saskatchewan fields is Machine Sync Guidance.
“Machine Sync Guidance is a combine/ tractor automation where the operator runs the combine, for example, in the field and can sync with the tractor and grain car beside it so when unloading the combine can take control of the tractor,” Musgrove explains. “So the operator in the tractor lets go of the steering wheel and the operator in the combine is driving along and the tractor is stuck to him like glue. It will follow around corners and stay with them and speed up and slow down. When finished unloading grain the combine releases the tractor and its operator takes back over, drives away and dumps the grain.”
This age of innovation also extends to traditional elements of farm machinery such as windrowers or headers.
“Windrowers and combines have been around forever in some way, shape or form, but even when you look at the technology that’s coming on them; they are putting guidance products on them, they are putting in different innovations to help the customer run faster and be more accurate in their cuts. The headers are getting wider and they now have flex profiles to them so they will follow the contour of the ground. So it’s no longer like driving a dozer blade down the field where it’s digging into the ground or something like that. It will flex and move. Machines are getting bigger, smarter and simpler to run all the time.”
But perhaps the ultimate aspect of new machine innovations farmers will appreciate most is the advances in cab design, comfort and convenience.
“When I started out cabs were an option, now you can’t sell one without a cab,” says Musgrove with a chuckle. “With this new age of tractors and combines when the farmer is sitting in his cab it is really his field office. With the automation you have in there you set the height of your headers, you set your ground speed and your direction and lock all that in. And now you have the ability with Bluetooth in the unit to make some of the calls you didn’t have time to do. You can do numerous other things as you are travelling across the field and still monitor what’s happening with the machine, and get some of your business work done while you are harvesting or seeding.”
Musgrove reminds farmers, though, they still have to look out even while sitting in the comfort of their “field office.”
“That’s the first thing the tractor states when you press the accept button to start: You have to watch out for obstructions in the field.”