This article was first published in “The Grower”, following a request for some thoughts on where cropping equipment is heading.
Farm Equipment 2020
An easy way to look stupid is to publish a prediction.
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”—Western Union, 1876
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, 1977.
“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.'”—David Pogue, 2006
“Technology Forecasting” seeks to identify technology trends and adoption rates. By tracking research papers, patent applications and early prototypes, an idea of when a new technology will appear, be first and broadly adopted, and its ultimate “market penetration” can be deduced. But it is notoriously difficult.
Looking at farm equipment, some directions are evident. But I’m very, very unsure about the time frames for broad adoption. And there are things just over the horizon that will be game changing. And of which we are absolutely ignorant.
Different folk adopt different things at different rates. Of the three base resources; land (and water), labour and capital, which are most limiting to your business? Your priorities for new ways and equipment will often see available capital move to make the use of your most limiting resources more efficient.
A reasonable assumption is that there will be fewer people producing more, higher-quality produce more reliably. They will use equipment that doesn’t look that different, but is much, much smarter. A planter will still look like a planter, but its control and recording will be vastly different.
Most changes will be to produce more from less – no change there in hundreds of years. But to produce more while minimising our environmental footprint is a newer spin. It will take us until 2020 to fully respond to regulatory changes.
1. Embedded information technologies will have a massive impact across all aspects of cropping. That is an easy call; they already are with satellite guidance, machine control, data capture, smartphones and improving rural broadband access.
2. Almost all equipment will be delivered with smart technology on-board, though not enabled until a licence fee is paid. Infotech is becoming rapidly cheaper and better. The physical bits are relatively inexpensive to produce, but the IP can be costly.
3. Data capture and analysis will be more powerful yet simpler. Automated routines will capture and turn data into farmer friendly information for decision making and compliance reporting.
4. All farm “devices” will be linked, geo-located and synchronised: your phone, tractor, sprayer, office, car, cool room and irrigator. Vehicles will routinely gather crop information as they pass, feeding it wirelessly to the farm office for analysis.
5. We will not see variable rate application based on sensor data as a one-pass operation. There are too many factors that influence the farm decision and it will be a while before all the considerations can be integrated automatically. Never say never?
6. Irrigation will be more efficient and smarter, using soil moisture data from sensor networks, and better integrated weather forecast information. Systems will deliver more accurate depths more evenly. The drivers are limited water supply and need to reduce nutrient leakage.
7. Variable rate system adoption will continue to increase and fertigation will be more widely used, especially in “fully nutrient allocated” areas. It offers tighter control and reduces the severity of any leaching.
8. Controlled traffic systems incorporating no-till, strip-till or permanent beds will be widespread, giving numerous benefits and very few downsides. Guidance is already “mature technology” on cropping farms. Seven years is long enough for a lot of equipment to be replaced as a matter of course. Selecting options that match standard bout widths is relatively simple; then common AB lines give CTF by default.
9. Driverless tractor units for harvest trailers/chaser bins will be supervised by harvester drivers. If cars can already drive safely on public roads . . .
10. Robotic sprayers and mowers will be used in orchards and vineyards but will not be common in field cropping.