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Focus on Smart Farming at Agritechnica

07 November 2011

Modern farming methods are increasingly characterized by high-tech innovations, with navigation, sensor technology, data management paving the way for ever higher levels of farming efficiency.

There is no doubt that smart farming represents the future of the agricultural industry and is a trend that farmers will increasingly embrace. In response to the huge level of interest in this subject, Agritechnica 2011 will feature a special show section titled “Smart Farming – Intelligent and sustainable plant production”.

For the first time, visitors to the world's largest agricultural machinery and technology event will be able to find out all they need to know about the latest trends in smart farming technologies and how these can be applied on their farms, as well as predictions of what might be available in the future.

The goal of high efficiency smart farming is complex as it must address many important factors simultaneously. As well as reducing costs and increasing crop quality and yield, it should provide better protection for the environment and improve working conditions for the farmer in terms of enhanced safety, comfort and convenience.

Smart farming’s many benefits

Although the technologies used in smart farming are still relatively new, they are all based on sound agricultural practices that have been proven by generations of farmers. For example GPS-assisted steering allows every tractor driver to steer as accurately as the most experienced operator, while machinery-mounted sensors can provide real-time crop information more quickly and more accurately than any agronomist walking the field.

Put simply, smart farming allows the agricultural industry to bring management levels more typical of trials plots to field-scale crops. Clearly there are initial set-up costs, but the experience of early adopters of the technology has shows a range of benefits: operating costs are minimized as machines work the fields in the most efficient way and save on labour and fuel; accurate fertiliser placement and pesticide spraying minimizes input costs environmental impact; operator working conditions are improved by systems that assist with or even automate complex tasks; accurate real-time operating performance data can be made available to the farm manager; and enhanced management decisions can be made through data analysis.

Visitors to the special Smart Farming section will be able to obtain a wealth of authoritative information and practical advice on the best-practice application of current technologies, as well as news of the latest technical trends that underpin intelligent farming.

Featuring five key focus categories – Navigation, Sensor Technology, Data Management, Farm Management and Future Solutions – interactive displays and simulators, as well as models will give a comprehensive overview of what smart farming means today. “Robotics, automated steering and driving, and GPS satellites are just some examples of technologies that were once considered futuristic, but are now within the reach of progressive farmers,” DLG’s head of technology Roland Hörner says. “At Agritechnica 2011, the DLG will highlight the exciting efficiencies that can be achieved by adopting the best technologies available today.

“Our Smart Farming section will include a unique combination of machinery and technologies from multiple manufacturers displayed in a way that has not seen before. Farmers will easily be able see what is available, allowing them to make an informed choice and maximize the return on their investment.”

Navigation and ISOBUS technology

GPS navigation systems are now capable of doing much more than simply helping tractors travel in a straight line. The exhibitors in the Navigation area of the Smart Farming section at Agritechnica 2011 have taken the technology another step forward by not only using satellite positioning data for steering, but linking it into machine control systems and/or record keeping as well.

Central to the success of these smart farming systems are the increasingly advanced electronics that play a crucial role in today’s tractors and implements. These now provide automatic real-time communication of vital operating performance data via ISOBUS from farm equipment to the in-cab information console.

Examples of where GPS and ISOBUS can work together to make farming smarter include a system from Claas that allows site-specific applications of farmyard manure, while both Dammann with the DLG Test Centre and John Deere with Land-Data Eurosoft and Kverneland have systems for seeding machines that feature section control to prevent overlap. Kverneland and Reichhardt will present another GPS solution for precision drilling that prevents overlap and allows single-row shut-off to create tramlines.

Müller Elektronik, working with arvato Systems and Lacos, will be showing a complete computer simulation for a test farm where GPS navigation systems are used to manage tasks and field work, and to produce management documentation, while the DLG Test Centre will present a detailed look at its ISOBUS Practice Test that checks whether a given plug and play system works.

ADDED-TECH, meanwhile, will be showing a system that applies variable-rate liquid fertiliser during seed drilling operations.

Gathering data on the go

To farm effectively, you need to know as much as possible about the land under your care. That is where Sensor Technology has a valuable role to play. By fitting sensors to your tractor or harvesters, or even by analyzing satellite images, you can collect real-time data about your soil or crops and cross reference the information against GPS data to produce maps that will help in the management of your farm.

Yield maps produced by combine harvesters are probably the best known field maps, but newer technologies include sensors that can calculate the nitrogen content of crops so that fertilisers are applied more efficiently.

At Agritechnica 2011, Amazone, Agri Con and WTK-Elektronic, and Fritzmeier will all be showing Nitrogen sensor systems in the Smart Farming section of the event. Amazone’s system includes job management and documentation, while Fritzmeier’s sensors can also produce a predictive yield map for the field being treated.

BioCover A/S will be showing a sensor system that regulates the pH of farmyard manure as it is being spread on the field so that ammonia emissions can be controlled and the maximum fertilizer value is obtained.

John Deere, along with Grimme and Pöttinger, will be exhibiting a range of tractor-mounted sensor-based control devices, while New Holland will have a display of model combine harvesters showing the automatic functions that can be controlled by sensors monitoring everything from grain losses out the back of the combine to grain damaged during threshing.

Storing and analyzing data

The key to any successful smart farming system is Data Management. The information collected has to be stored safely and securely so that it can be analyzed when required to help make farm management decisions.

This is one of the busiest categories in the Smart Farming section of Agritechnica 2011 with a range of systems for farmers to investigate and consider how they might fit into their own businesses.

Both Fendt and Massey Ferguson will be addressing how their tractors handle data; Fendt is promoting its Variotronic ISOBUS-compatible terminal as the way to manage data, while Massey Ferguson will show how its modern tractor cabs act as the control unit and information centre at the centre of the farming operation.

Farm management systems for both operators and machines will be at the centre of the displays by both Agri Con with GIS GmbH and Hansenhof electronic; and John Deere and Land-Data Eurosoft. The latter of the two systems also has a networking aspect, as does the wireless “Connected Farm” system that will be exhibited by geo-Konzept.

Hansenhof electronic and AgroZentrLiski will have their open system for documenting field records on show, while Claas will be displaying its web-based supply chain optimization system.

Staying with internet-enabled technologies, Helm Software will be exhibiting its HERAKLES smartphone app for field management.

Farm management data sources

Access to up-to-date information is vital to any successful farm business and it is only natural that the special smart farming section at Agritechnica 2011 includes companies and organisations dedicated to the supply of valuable data that aids farm management.

Information services that will be exhibited at the event include farming weather from the German Meteorological Service working with Kverneland; and access to worldwide soil information data from Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Raw Materials. ISIP, meanwhile, will be showing a location-based decision support system for crops. Advanced crop management concepts can also be seen at the exhibition. John Deere and JD Water will be showing their work to integrate irrigation with smart farming strategies, while both MMM tech Support and Pessl Instruments, and ADCON Telemetry have developed autonomous irrigation controllers.

Amazone’s concept tillage system for strip-sowing sugar beet, corn and oilseed rape will also be fully explained to visitors at this year’s show.

Looking to the future

No exhibit looking at smart farming can ignore looking into the future to consider the systems farmers might be using in the years to come. Smart farming is already a key part of the agricultural research and development work taking place at DLG, the German Agriculture Society and organizer of Agritechnica. Together with the University of Hohenheim, in Stuttgart, dedicated teams from both sides have been engaged in developing automated and precision farming tools that may well lead to a series of successful new innovations.

One exciting example of how new concepts in automation and robotics can be successfully applied in everyday agricultural machinery will be shown at Agritechnica 2011 in the form of a simple autonomous machine of 20kW power retrofitted with an ultra-precise GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) and a modern computer-based controls. Steering, engine speed and forward speed (continuously variable transmission) are all managed by an autonomous control system.

This autonomous tractor is able to follow a predefined route across a field to perform pre-programmed tasks to extremely high levels of accuracy. Dedicated optical sensors mean that the machine can recognize obstacles, reducing concerns about safety and reliability.

The Smart Farming section will also showcase demonstrations of advanced crop sensors conducted by the Competence Center for Sensors and Geoinformation Systems (SenGIS) at Hohenheim University. These sensors work with autonomous machines to capture information about the nutrient status of crop plants and the distribution of weed species across the field. Using this data, the farm manager is better able to plan for an optimized strategy in fertilization and weed control.

Unique smart farming showcase

Agritechnica 2011 will offer an unprecedented opportunity to see the latest smart farming technology and question industry experts and academics about the systems that are available now and those that are on the way.

Improved yield and crop quality, long-term reductions in operating costs and efficient applications of farming inputs such as fertilizers are just some of the advantages that smart farming can bring. And farmers will increasingly have at their disposal a wealth of real-time data from which they can draw to make important management decisions on their farm and monitor their production progress.

With the global farming community fast catching on to the benefits that smart technologies can bring, and the importance of farming to efficiently feed a growing world population without adverse environmental effects, smart farming surely provides a positive indicator of what the future of agriculture can achieve.

November 2011

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