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Equipment manufacturers focus on technology

Images of autonomous machines working on their own in fields can easily grab the attention of early-adopter producers, especially those facing a labour crunch.

They also make impressive headlines and brand announcements.

However, even though several concept, prototype and even a few production machines have appeared on the scene, nearly all producers will again still be sitting in their tractor cabs to get next spring’s crop in the ground.

There seems to be unanimous agreement among executives at major brands that there is still a lot of work to do before most farmers can think of spending all their days in the farm office rather than the cab.

During an Ag Equipment Intelligence 2024 Executive briefing webinar in December, senior executives from four major companies discussed their views on automation and autonomy. Most agree that the road to full autonomy will first involve gradually automating all the processes farm machines do while keeping an operator in most cabs for the time being.

“We talk about full autonomy so much and so fluently, but the automation of (individual) processes is building blocks along the way until it’s really the whole moon shot,” said Kurt Coffey, Case IH’s vice-president for North America.

“I know there are generations coming in machine operation and scale that require full autonomy — if not full autonomy, then leader-follower, one machine (being operated by a person) and three following,” he said.

“To me it’s going to be a race to integrate sophisticated tech into existing platforms.”

Agco’s Brad Arnold, vice-president for Massey Ferguson in North America, agreed. He said that for his company, one of the main efforts now is to provide retrofit solutions that allow producers to incorporate technology and automation into late-model machines.

“With the acquisition of Precision Planting six years ago, we really brought on this retrofit first mindset,” he said.

“We added Headsight so we had some automation for combines and the capability to further automate combines from a retrofit perspective. Appareo similarly addresses the retrofit opportunity with seeders, sprayers, spreaders, and JCA with the tech stack for autonomy.

“We’re excited to take a full automation to autonomy approach from a retrofit perspective as we bring all of these technologies together, and once we close on the Trimble JV (joint venture) to start to bring that technology into the portfolio as well.”

In November Agco announced it had entered into a “transformational joint venture with Trimble, which creates an industry leading global mixed-fleet precision ag platform.”

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Carson, the 6th Gen Farmer, is a young farmer dedicated to promoting agriculture through funny and entertaining content. He is passionate about precision agriculture and implementing it into the family farm. Carson, along with his brother (Chris) and father (Ryan) carry on the family legacy in South Western Minnesota and explain the processes to educate farmers and consumers alike. If you like to watch and learn about John Deere, Farm equipment, precision agriculture, or the hilarious interactions between the family members on a daily basis 6th Gen Farmer is the place for you!