By Willie Vogt
The future of agriculture technology is taking on many shapes as technology advances and new tools become available. But what might future tech look like? Social media lit up with photos from Agritechnica of John Deere’s future-think display, where a range of tools was on view (Agritechnica is a global farm show held biennially in Germany). Many incorporate technologies that could be put to use in the near future, including that new X9 combine.
You’ll also find technologies regarding autonomous spraying, electric drive, autonomy and unique application tools. The ideas shown offer a glimpse into the direction ag tech could move in global agriculture.
There are forces outside of agriculture that drive the industry, and this future-think display offered a look at some areas farmers may see in the future. For example, the electric “boost” system that won John Deere the gold medal at the show allows a tractor-powered generator to provide added traction to an implement. This would allow for lower-horsepower tractors, to reduce the amount of fuel used, and perhaps the carbon footprint.
A look through this slideshow, which includes what information we know about the new X9 combine, will give you a look at future trends for agriculture technology. Deere made a significant splash in a very big ag tech pond during Agritechnica.
1. OVERHEAD APPLICATOR: Walking into the Future Technology Zone of the John Deere exhibit at the Agritechnica farm show in November, a visitor had only to look up to see the VoloDrone application prototype. VoloDrone is working on air taxis and larger drones, and this partnership shows the potential for applying crop protection products remotely. The unit has 18 rotors and is 28 feet in diameter. A single charge allows 30 minutes of flying time, and it can be operated remotely or automatically on a preprogrammed route. The company anticipates the machine could apply product to more than 12 acres per hour. A key to drone product application is the ability to fly directly to problem areas, reducing the need to spray the whole field. This reduces chemical needs.
2. AUTONOMOUS SPRAYING: While a drone overhead can offer application flexibility, an automated sprayer offers flexibility too, especially in a tight labor market. The unit shown on the stand has a 147-gallon tank and a high-clearance design. It also features four-wheel steering, which makes it easy to maneuver, while those tracks minimize ground pressure expanding the unit’s operating window. It was near the Blue River See & Spray machine, which begs the question about how that machine learning tech might be applied to this new high-clearance machine.
3. DRONES ON DEMAND: This drone tower puts autonomous drones at your command. When in the field, you can call up an automated drone (not now, but perhaps in the future) to take on chores like in-field imagery, hyperspectral sensing and other data gathering. That tool could be managed by an enhanced office-like cab system (see next slide) to send drones where needed around the farm. When it’s possible to deploy drones beyond the visible line of sight, this kind of tool could be handy for crop scouts and larger farms.
4. CAB OF THE FUTURE: We featured a story on this cab (including a video) showing how you might one day run the farm from the tractor. Larger monitors, split screens and the ability to view other workers as they carry out tasks on the farm are all part of this office-like prototype. Check out the story .
5. AUTONOMOUS, ELECTRIC: There’s a lot of interest in autonomous farm equipment these days, and John Deere has long worked on tools in this area. This prototype tractor is also an all-electric design, with two large electric motors (one for each track set) to power through work. It’s a prototype; and when operated in France earlier in 2019, the machine was powered by an electric cord. Supporting high-horsepower electric equipment remains one engineering issue to work out for big machines that are fully electric. However, this shows the potential direction for autonomous designs. Deere did have a fully electric small tractor on the stand, which garnered a lot of attention, too.
6. VISION SYSTEMS: This camera rig may not be too far in the future, given increasingly tough on-road rules for big equipment. Being able to see to the side and ahead as you run from field to field may become a safety issue. Note that this rig also has a GPS receiver integrated into the design, and plenty of lighting.
7. SUPER HARVEST MONITOR: Just how fast should our combine run? Can you predict the load that field of corn, wheat or soybeans is going to slug up the feeder house? This system, which garnered Deere a silver award at the show, incorporates both satellite imagery and an on-cab camera to “look ahead” at the crop to be harvested. It can “see” higher levels of biomass, which may require you to slow down — or perhaps a lighter crop, and you can speed up. The idea is to boost harvest efficiency.
8. GOLD AWARD WINNER: This innovation includes a generator in the tractor driveline that can transfer power to a compatible implement, providing a boost of traction to the implement’s wheels. As the tractor starts to slip on the uphill climb, the system senses the change, and an electric power boost is transferred to the implement to add some “push.” It’s an innovative way to manage power and equipment size, and it’s popular in Europe, where larger machines can be problematic for road transport. It will be interesting to see how the idea evolves in future equipment.
9. A NEW COMBINE: The new X9 got plenty of attention at the show and will be heading to North America, too. The company says a limited number will be available for the 2020 harvest season. The machine includes a new twin-rotor design and a wide body for improved crop flow. It includes an increase in active threshing and separation areas, and a larger cleaning shoe, yet it maintains a narrow 11½-foot transport width on both wheels and tracks.
10. COMBINE INNARDS: A look at the two-rotor design of the new X9 was only available through a video on display by the machine. This shows part of that design, which is aimed to boost productivity. Deere notes that the S Series combines will remain available in the line; the X9 is just the latest-model harvester from the company. Also introduced was a new draper header. Check out the next slide for more information.
11. FLEX HEADER: During the demonstration of this flex draper on the front of the X9, each side flexed up and down — as much as 3 feet. The hinged frame will provide improved ground-following capabilities, with the widest wing range available. This high-flex design will improve performance on sloping terrain, providing clean, even stubble height. The new header features in innovative belt design you can see on the next slide.
12. RETHINKING A DRAPER BELT: As grain flops onto the draper belt from the cutter bar and is pulled into the threshing system, this new belt design aims to capture and keep more small grains heading into the system. The multi-cleat feature is new for the flex header and was introduced at the same time as the X9. John Deere also notes that the new flex head will be available for S Series combines.