Copies of old magazines are much like time capsules, providing us with a snapshot of life in a previous time. The “time capsule” analogy is even more interesting when the stories from those dated pages dealt with what experts at the time were predicting for our current era.
In the world of technology 10 years can see significant changes, so when we ran onto the 2007 Farm Equipment issue which offered up the visions of the future (2017) from various individuals in the farm equipment manufacturing industry, it was surprising to see how closely some predictions came to reality.
In 2007, the survey kicked off with Farm Equipment asking manufacturers to “take a look 10 years down the road and ‘mentally engineer’ what dealers might expect in the way of new equipment and systems that will impact farming a decade from now.” The responses, much like they might be today, were weighted heavily with concerns for a tough labor market, new environmental regulations and government mandates, rising prices for farm inputs, the emergence of new fuel sources and “break- even” prices for commodities.
On-the- Go Machine Adjustments – By the Machine
One example, from Eric Lund, Veristech, foresaw more complex machinery providing a simpler job for operators through self-adjusting systems.
“Auto-steer capability will allow implement dealers to increase the number of in-field, on-the- go equipment adjustments. This will provide better tilling, planting and other operations by matching needs in the field. Ten years from now many of these adjustments will be performed automatically based on sensor input from the tractor or implement,” he wrote.
Significant advances toward Lund’s prediction can be found in today’s implement guidance hitches and attachments and row-sensing capability on sprayers, but much of the prediction has come to full fruition in harvesting operations. John Deere’s S-7 Series combine with multiple-self- adjusting systems is a prime example of what Lund envisioned. Similarly, Case IH is introducing ground-engaging equipment with agronomic feedback capability — further testimony to increasing collaboration between software and mechanical engineers.
Self-Protecting Plants – Second Look at Cultivation
Todd Botterill and Jim Boak, Salford Farm Machinery were looking in the right direction with their 2007 outlook that called for self-protecting plants and, despite the fact glyphosate-resistant weeds had not yet become a widespread problem, that the industry would revisit cultivation of row crops with new equipment and methods.
“Seed genetics will advance to the point where plants will generate some of their own herbicide and nitrogen.
“Agriculture will take another look at row-crop cultivation with new cab, steering, hitch and hydraulic technologies,” they wrote.
Today, BT corn is common place, and increasingly scientists are looking at improving nitrogen-fixing properties of plants.
In late 2017, Bayer CropSciences launched a $100 million joint venture with Boston-based Ginko BioWorks to select and improve various nitrogen-fixing bacteria strains isolated by Bayer. The goal of the research is to produce more naturally-occurring nitrogen in the root zone of the corn plant, thereby reducing grower financial inputs and over-application of nutrients into the environment.
With glyphosate resistant weeds challenging corn and soybean producers throughout much of the nation, growers are increasingly showing renewed interest at various forms of cultivation to skirt regulatory and liability problems associated with Dicamba and chemical drift. Increasingly popular implement guidance systems, cued by sub-inch accuracy precision systems, along with today’s strip-till technology further satisfies the 2007 prediction.
In 2007 Brent Wiesenburger of Totally Tubular Mfg., foresaw wireless technology enabling equipment to communicate with cab monitors, systems and computers to make machinery management more reliable and efficient. Also, he spoke of Bluetooth-enabled Windows-based monitors which would allow machine communication between tractor and implements, regardless of brand.
“As an example, farmers will be able to back up to a green planter with a new red tractor and the Bluetooth-enabled monitor will automatically recognize the planter, install the appropriate driver and let the operator head off to the field to plant,” he wrote.
While the industry didn’t completely adopt Weisenburger’s “common-link to major brands concept” in the allotted decade, Bluetooth-enabled equipment is keeping guidance on track in 2018 with DigiFarm’s Beacon 3.0 system which can stream RTK data into any precision receiver without the need for cables. The interface comes through an app on the operator’s tablet device and the signal can be read by most major brands of receivers.
Monitoring the Process
One needs only to look at the cabs of today’s new combines to see the following prediction by Jac Knoop, AMS, Inc., playing out.
“Grain yield and moisture meters will be standard on combines, forage harvesters and hay balers.”
While not standard across the board, growers increasingly are opting for the option of such monitors and use data they provide to further boost their productivity with field-map- driven decision making in subsequent seasons.
Knoop also foresaw the move toward traffic-pattern farming and tram-lines to reduce yield-robbing soil compaction.
“Systems to reduce soil compaction will become an industry standard that will be done through GPS autosteer systems on tractors and matching widths of all implements and combine headers so each pass takes place in the same location.”
Many growers have gone to significant effort to standardize the axle-width of their equipment, and another popular “forecast” of 2007 – autonomous farm equipment – is seen in today’s nearly-ready- for- prime-time self-driving grain carts that ply fields in prescribed traffic patterns.
Continued Distribution Challenges for Shortlines
One of the recurring themes in the 2007 Imagineering project was the pressure on shortline equipment manufacturers to find distribution channels for their projects.
Even 11 years ago, small equipment makers were facing the challenge of major OEM dreams of “brand purity” at their dealerships, and could see they were likely to have problems with distribution and specialization.
Today, Jody McCree, manager of sales and operations, at Krone North America, says little has changed.
“The majors are doing everything they can to protect their distribution and capitalize on it,” he explains. “Distribution opportunities for specialty manufacturers will become fewer and fewer, so a void will exist for new dealerships set up by investors who want to specialize in their trade areas.”
Brad Baker, Salford Group, Inc., agrees, and reiterates there hasn’t been a lot of progress in the area.
“There are a lot of good shortline dealers out there, and in the short term, we look for them to continue to expand,” he says. “Also, some companies are opting for direct representation in the market, but that is very expensive, and presents the problem of who will deliver and service short-line equipment in remote areas.
“Probably the most pragmatic solution would involve investors launching start-up dealerships in specific
areas of the industry. These people would perhaps be farmers who are cashing out of production, but
still want to be involved in the industry and have a working knowledge of the equipment needs of their
In the long-run, however, both McCree and Baker see the proliferation of technology making it difficult for majors to maintain brand purity.
In the meantime, specialty manufacturers continue to look at modular manufacturing — building major components of equipment that can be configured in various ways for different customers — to reduce costs and parts book size.
Also, as outlined in 2007 by now-retired Jim Gladstone of Valmar Airflo, (now part of Salford Group, Inc.) look for continue efforts on the part of short-line companies to sell on pre-orders and to operate with limited production runs – a practice already being used by the majors.