An odd thing happened during this year’s National Farm Machinery Show, at least for a guy who’s been covering the farm equipment market since the mid-1980s (great time to start right?). And what I’m about to say, may make me sound like your Dad reminding you of the ‘good old days.’ That’s not my intention.
The odd thing was the rollout of a couple of new tractors from CNH. Both brands – Case IH and New Holland – brought tech-focused new machines at the top of their fixed-frame tractor ranges. In the past, when I covered tractor launches, there were a lot of details to get right. And there still are. But this was the first time the discussion of new tractors didn’t involve talking engines, horsepower or transmissions.
It’s a given that today’s tractors have the top line Tier 4 Final engines and transmissions that farmers can count on. And while that’s still important and there are innovations happening with drive trains, the shear focus on the tech in the cab of these tractors monopolized the conversation. And it shows a few changes in our industry that have mushroomed in a very short time.
Today’s farm equipment “majors” – those who make engine-powered workhorses for your farm – have discovered that these machines are big data gathering tools for work in other parts of the operation. In addition, these tractors become control centers for implements. The idea of simply hooking up a 3-point hitch and some hydraulic lines to a machine, or attaching an implement to the drawbar, are just the beginning now.
When that tractor rolls into the field with an impelement it starts collecting information about the process, the path, the time it took, the time you idled, and remembering if any issues arose in the machine’s operation. The tractors and combines of today, and tomorrow, have become the starting point for your precision farming information gathering. Which is why the launch of tech-enabled tractors with enhanced connectivity is news for the industry.
During the same show, John Deere made an announcement of a software upgrade for its Gen 4 system. It reads like the latest information on a new Android phone, or laptop computer. Yes, the times have changed. And that’s a good thing.
Beyond bits and bytes
Yet walking the show floor a person could find a range of other tools that brought innovation but had little to do with the computer tech being attached to machinery. Farm ingenuity is alive and well across the industry, whether you’re talking a more aggressive snapping roll from Calmer Corn Heads – 12 knife blades; or the feeder house Dust Diverter from W. A. Johnson.
IMPROVING VISIBILITY: Dust is the bane of harvest time. As a combine rolls through the field it can kick up plenty. This Dust Diverter from W.A. Johnson was rolled out at the National Farm Machinery Show, offering a new approach to the problem.
That Dust Diverter is a fan, powered by the combine, that sits on top of the feeder house behind the reel or corn head. Blowing air on down on either side, the idea is that it pushes dust back down to boost visibility during a dry harvest. And there are times in any season when dust can be so bad visibility is a problem. It’s a simple idea that farmers who had trouble seeing during harvest may find valuable. And it’s a farmer-focused innovation that solves a problem.
I know the future in farm equipment is a tech-enabled rolling data-gathering platform. It may involve machines that work in ways we barely imagine, as farmers seek a solution to the tightening labor market. Or chart a course for ever-tighter efficiency.
The many forms of ag innovation are what help farmers do what they do best – grow food more efficiently. And that’s a task well worth the innovation effort.