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Where to next for Farm Machinery Technology?



Posted by Admin, 18th June 2014

The advent of affordable GPS solutions for Australian agricultural machinery has advanced the productivity of Australian farmers over the past 20 years more than any other product. The ability to plant, spray and harvest accurately has improved the productivity of growing food and fibre to the point that Australian farmers are among the most productive in the world. 15 years ago, the cost of an accurate GPS system for a tractor was in excess of $100,000, whereas today that same system is under $40,000 due to a broader acceptance and increased competition. 15 years ago, the challenge for Australian farmers was interpreting the data collected from these systems, such as yield maps from harvesting equipment, and using this data to better grow the following year’s crop. Nowdays, many agronomists are using this data to advance the productivity of a farm using precision agricultural solutions through spray techniques and precision planting to accurately place the seed and fertiliser in and on the ground, reducing waste and increasing yields – ultimately putting more money in the pockets of the farmers. Much of the machinery sold to the farmers today accommodates the use of this technology significantly better and cheaper than in the past using CAN bus systems, allowing the farmer to “plug and play” the systems into the machinery that will automatically talk to the technology, rather than having to rewire the machinery to accommodate the technology.

So where to from here? What is the next big shift in technology that will further improve the productivity of farm machinery and therefore the farmer? Australian farmers remain divided on the use of things such as Control Traffic Farming, raised beds and zero till methods, although recently there has been a significant shift towards these practices. Are all agronomic services up to speed on the use of the data which is produced by the machinery? Can all this data be productively applied to the science of farming – is the data produced too advanced for the practicalities of farming in Australia? These are questions that can only be answered by each individual farmer and their agronomist as they look at how this data or information can be used. There is some thought that many agricultural science businesses may end up with data rooms full of people interpreting the information coming from the machinery in real time, and feeding this back to the farmer while he is on the tractor or sprayer – perhaps this will be the domain of the supplying dealership as they are best equipped to gather the information and feed this to the farmer or agronomist. Unfortunately, there is no clear direction either here or overseers that can shed any light on this shift in information technology, however there are signs that some companies are gearing up for this change. John Deere recently formed an alliance with DuPont, a global leader in chemical production and supply for agriculture which sheds some light on how important this precision agriculture segment of the market is to machinery manufacturers, while Agco is heading down the grain handling path with its acquisition of GSI in the US – both decisions point to a more vertically integrated approach by the manufactures to the overall farming operations, rather than just the iron. Stay tuned as we watch dealers and manufacturers look to take a competitive advantage in this precision agriculture space, beyond GPS and the actual tools to make it happen, to processing and interpreting the information from the machinery into value add products to the Australian farmer – very exciting times indeed.

Richard Lewis