Pictured Above: Cory Beaujot (l), manager of business development at SeedMaster and DOT Technology, and Jamie Meier (r), farm equipment sales manager for Landoll, discussed trends in farm equipment technology and the possibility for ag’s future being autonomous. The two met during the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Assn. November 2019 meeting, just one day after it was announced that Raven Industries had completed its acquisition of the majority ownership of DOT Technology Corp.
Jamie Meier, Farm Equipment Sales Manager, Landoll
Cory Beaujot, Manager of Business Development, SeedMaster Mfg. & DOT Technology
Cory Beaujot: I’d really like a 5,000-foot view of Landoll.
Jamie Meier: We employ 900 people, are based out of Kansas and a diversified company with four divisions. Ag is one of them. If it has anything to do with designing, bending, cutting, fabrication, we do it. I oversee product development and the general direction of our ag business, of which tillage is the biggest piece.
Beaujot: What are your thoughts on autonomy for your product line?
Meier: There are things that make sense to me and there are hurdles. Labor is an issue, and so now, having those things in the field I’m sure the goal is some day running 24/7. It helps the manpower situation. Then, from the size standpoint, there’s a limit and we’re pushing the limits of tires and transport in everything.
“You just go and keep trying and maybe fail, but move ahead. Get in there, try something, fail or succeed, but make it better. We just need to make sure we’re coming to market not only with something that’s cool ... but will also solve problems…”
Beaujot: And mental health, probably to a degree. That’s a lot of iron to be pulling behind you. We don’t have to be as big as we have been. There’s a lot of inefficiencies with respect to a 70, 80, 90-foot machine. The stresses people out — the neighbors, the passengers on the road.
Meier: And then the notion of whether we even do a very good job seeding in straight lines with those big machines. We’ve had to make that 90-foot machine act like a 10-foot one to be able to meet appropriate variable rates, shut off sections here and there all over the place.
Then there’s the element of a robot moving in your field. I’d feel more comfortable if it wasn’t a 90-foot one. But if it was two or three 30-footers roving around, it feels more achievable.
I think it has value and you guys are courageous enough to move forward and follow that dream, which is pretty cool.
Beaujot: Depends. Either courageous or crazy ...
Meier: I come from a family of manufacturers as well, our family started the Sunflower brand. I was given a pioneer territory, where they had no idea who Sunflower was. We had zero distribution, zero dealer network and I built that, something I’m still proud of because every sale I made, I knew I was…
Beaujot: A part of it. When we started SeedMaster, there were many people who thought Dad could just take his bank roll from Seed Hawk and kick it back and everything should be fine. But he wasn’t done. I’m sure a lot of people thought it was crazy to jump back into the market, competing against his patents because of a separation agreement, going to market with a similar product.
It was a good baptism by fire, I guess. You need to just get in there and start doing the thing you believe in. You just go and keep trying and maybe fail, but move ahead. Get in there, try something, fail or succeed, but make it better. We just need to make sure we’re coming to market not only with something that’s cool and robotic, but will also solve problems for farmers.
Meier: One of the things that’s been a bit of a challenge for the last year is we’ve had so much rain in North America, resulting in a lot of washouts.
Beaujot: As it sits today, before seeding a farmer is obliged to physically drive the perimeter of the field and the internal obstacles of the field. Our hope is that shortly we’ll be able to use aerial photographs in concert with drone technology to fly the fields ahead of the map being built to identify the trouble zones. There’s already mechanisms built into the tires and wheel motors that stops the equipment and waits for further instruction.
Meier: You’re not dealing with near the weight, so that’s interesting. I guess two things surprise me: cost and size. I feel it’s a pretty decent size, and if you can pull that with your rig ...
Beaujot: When it comes to strip-till, there’s probably more we need to learn around that technology.
“It comes down to dollars. Everybody might want to do those things, but how can I turn a profit? And then be a steward of the land?…”
Meier: We make in-line rippers, which is similar to a strip-till rig, but we don’t make all the attachments. I would say it’s a practice that has some hotbed areas engaged more with it. That’s the thing that makes farming interesting — there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Beaujot: Yeah, it looks different in different areas — at home it’s predominantly no-till canola, wheat, corn, soybeans, peas, some flax here and there. But there’s this little group that has been beating a drum strongly around intercropping and those things.
Meier: It all comes down to dollars. Everybody might want to do those things, but how can I turn a profit? And then be a steward of the land?
Beaujot: There’s a middle ground. What do you see from your side of the business that plays into the future of autonomy?
Meier: It wouldn’t be a big stretch, for us to develop products that would work to be DOT ready. There’s still a lot of tillage, though. For the guys farther north, where soil temperatures are still a huge piece to even get the work done, getting the nitrogen release back into the soil certainly allows them to get in there earlier in the spring.
The planting window was tight due to weather. That might be a little bit of challenge in some of these pieces — how many hours do we have to run?
Beaujot: I think that’s one of the things that’s really interesting for me is that this provides different kinds of possibilities for farmers of all shapes and sizes. It also gives them the opportunity to think about their farm in different way.