Steering towards automation: A roadmap to the future of farming

Our ability to engineer the natural environment to produce and sustain food supplies quite literally keeps the growing global population alive.

But, with the world’s population expected to grow to just under 10 billion by 2050¹, the agriculture industry is under increasing pressure to produce more and produce faster.

With less space, less time and continually changing and uncertain weather conditions, the need to maximise harvest is more important than ever, and digital solutions are making maximum yield a reality.

For farmers across Ireland, there’s a growing challenge of getting the most out of relatively small and medium-sized farms, and doing so with limited resource. Automation of processes can reduce the strain on the workforce and dramatically improve efficiencies.

Whether it’s seeding, planting, spraying or harvesting, a big drain on the energy of farmers behind the wheel of machinery is steering to make best use of the field. Mistakes or inefficient steering can also be a big drain on expenses, as spreading and spraying becomes impacted meaning farmers end up buying more fertiliser or seed than should be needed.

Automation of steering on farm machinery is a concept from the turn of the 20th century, but is now a very real innovation on today’s farms.

Autosteering, through GPS guidance technology such as Topcon Positioning’s X25 or X35 solutions, can allow one tractor to do the work of two or three tractors, with continuous, round the clock operation.

There’s now a way to eliminate over and underlapping and allow operators to focus on other tasks such as business admin and helping to reduce driver fatigue – especially important during longer, 18-hour summer working days.

Demonstrating the benefits

The agriculture industry is an ancient one, heralding back over 12,000 years ago. The invention of machinery changed the face and capabilities of this sector, and now automation technology is looking to do the same to take agriculture to the next level of efficiency and productivity.

However, with initial investment needed in addition to machinery for these technologies, many farmers aren’t accessing the benefits of these innovations, despite the cost being relatively minimal. Farmers and contractors that are embracing this new age of agriculture are leading the pack and peaking the interest of machinery manufacturers.

Krone, an industry-leading farm machinery manufacturer, is bringing technology to customers in its own way.

Last year, Krone hosted a tour around the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland with its new BiG M self-propelled mower, with Topcon’s AGI-4 GNSS receiver and X25 display on board. The tour introduced the machine and showcased the automated steering solution to 70 contractors over 3,000ac of land with positive feedback across the board.

The operator of the machine during the tour, Ben Buckley, from machinery importer Farmhand, commented on the way this technology is enabling farmers to hand over the time-intensive work with machinery to the next generation with fewer skills, but just as much passion for the industry.

He said: “I completely understand that, while budgets are tight, the day-to-day farmers that we work with may be uncertain about investing in technology like that offered by Topcon, but what we were hoping to do with the tour is showcase great machinery and great technology working together to create an undeniable roster of benefits.

Some farmers may be hesitant at first of this new technology, but the Topcon system could not be easier to use and quicker to set up, and we saw many testing the machine on the tour have their eyes opened to the possibility with this technology.

Autosteering may be the first step towards fully automated farms of the future which could see this technology and others as essentials to ensure maximum yield and profit.

This technology is paving the way for cost, time and fuel savings across all seasons, terrains and vehicles in the industry.

With sustainability at the forefront of farmers’ minds, along with meeting consumer demand for more organic and locally-sourced produce, solutions like drones, automated soil and crop health sensors, and even autonomous tractors could well be staples on farms across Ireland and the world.

Technology like this is all built with the intention to complement machinery of all types, and to enable farmers to concentrate on the crop.

With machinery developing from automation to eventual level 5 autonomy, technology like this is making the end goal closer than ever.

As more see the benefits themselves through manufacturers like Krone and technology specialists like Topcon, the momentum of digital transformation in the industry is only set to grow.

Further information

For more information about Topcon’s X25 and X35 solutions, just click here

Topcon Positioning Ireland contacts:

In addition to the above, you can also get in contact by emailing: [email protected].