Farmer Iron
The world of real-time tech Willie Vogt

The world of real-time tech

Cheaper sensors, smarter software and some ingenuity will bring some very interesting machines to market in the future.

Sometimes as you look at machinery and tech, looking ahead can be fun. We're not talking about predicting the future, just looking at what's in the works in a world where billions are being invested in ag technology. But also based on some real-world stuff we're seeing from a range of customers, the future looks very interesting.

The biggest deal is the marriage between sensors and software. This comes through with the John Deere S700 combine, as the latest example. The engineers there have taken imaging sensors - smart cameras that can actually "see" damaged grain and help set the machine properly in real time. Or the technology that allows on-the-go calibration for improved yield map data.

This is a real-time world where computers can do calculations faster that humans based on wide-ranging sensor input. These sensors, whether strain gauges that can measure forces at work, imaging sensors, heat detectors and others, have gotten cheaper. Add in that you tractor or combine is essentially a rolling computer network and there are opportunities to bring improved operation across a range of tools.

Smarter combines, are a good example. Claas talks about 'variable rate harvesting,' which is an idea that could only be possible with sensors and on-the-go adjustments that are faster than humanly possible.

But what if that technology was translated elsewhere? Sprayers are already smarter with pulse-width-modulation spraying. Planter tools are getting better with digital down-pressure systems that keep row units where they belong (in contact with the soil).

And about that operator

One benefit of this real-time, on-the-go hubbub is the ability to maximize machine efficiency and improve planting, spraying and harvest quality. In the long run, the idea is to maximize crop production, but there's an underlying conversation too. The operator.

The rising challenge of finding skilled farm labor, and limits to what you can import, mean putting someone behind the wheel who may not have the years of experience setting up a combine or planter as in the past. This technology can be the "co-pilot" in this process as the machine maximizes combine setup, or makes sure pressures are right for proper application.

With a less experienced driver using these systems, farmers could have more confidence that harvest quality - for example - would not suffer. Of course, engineers for some of these systems note that in combines harvest quality would actually be better. That remains to be seen.

As you look at the iron investments you'll be making in the future, this will be a trend worth following.

TAGS: Equipment
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