Ground Control

Easy to learn and use, precision farming technologies from AGCO offer cutting-edge solutions for greater efficiencies and profitability.

By Des Keller

I can cut for six to 12 hours and not feel nearly as tired as when I’d run four hours before we had this system. I save fuel because I’m not overlapping. —Ken Salsman

I can cut for six to 12 hours and not feel nearly as tired as when I’d run four hours before we had this system. I save fuel because I’m not overlapping. —Ken Salsman

The quality of machinery—the iron, its design and functionality—will always be important. More often in the years ahead, though, customers will want to know what the machinery can deliver in the way of precision farming capabilities.

“Even with the exceptional productivity gains farmers have made in recent years,” says Bruce Hart, AGCO’s director, ATS Global Marketing, “there will continue to be expectations of greater gains to come. Things like uptime will need to be increased, so will in-field efficiency, yield per acre—even in less-than-perfect conditions. One of the biggest differentiators in the future to help with this will be electronics.”

In some ways, that future has already arrived. Ken Salsman considers that nearly every time he cuts hay using his Hesston® by Massey Ferguson WR9770 windrower equipped with autosteering. “I really like the accuracy,” says Salsman, who farms about 500 acres near Macon, Mo. “Each swath is the same as the one before. The bales can get lopsided if you don’t get the same cut every time you go through the field. Plus, I can cut for six to 12 hours and not feel nearly as tired as when I’d run four hours before we had this system. I save fuel because I’m not overlapping.”

Now, even more revolutionary and helpful tools are being incorporated into farming operations. The latest advancement allows the machines to recognize and communicate their own maintenance needs, while also helping make real-time adjustments in the field.

As an example, Hart talks about the bottleneck that can occur at harvest as farmers coordinate the logistics of combines, grain carts, trucks, driers and storage bins. “They want to observe all those functions going on at the same time,” he says.

Much of that can be accomplished through AGCO’s new AGCOMMAND, a telemetry system that tracks the location and activity of machinery either via computers in the office or through a portable tablet or computer. Says Hart: “Our business is evolving to a connected strategy, where they can link … all their machines and aspects of their operation.”

AGCOMMAND has already gained traction with agricultural businesses such as cooperatives and agronomy service companies. “I thought I was a very good manager as far as equipment and personnel were concerned,” says Terry Schmidt, an agronomy manager with CHS, Inc., in southern Minnesota.

“But a technology like AGCOMMAND has shown us how inefficient we can be,” says Schmidt. “As a result of using the program, we went from having eight fertilization units to seven and yet covered more acres the very next year.

“Don’t resist this technology,” Schmidt says, “because it is your friend. The more we can do today, the more I’m jumping into it.”

Schmidt is working with AGCO toward the day when all 29 of the application units he now manages for CHS in the region can be dispatched through AGCOMMAND. That, he says, would allow for even more efficiency in terms of getting the right machine in the right location without any confusion or delay. “I can see that this could eventually allow us to run a double shift,” says Schmidt, “to run 24 hours.”

The ability to monitor and control machinery remotely will also make it easier for farms to employ machinery operators who don’t necessarily have to understand what every screen in the cab is doing. That’s an important factor in an era where farmers can struggle finding qualified employees.

To keep the learning curve to a minimum for everyone, AGCO is also working to make sure AGCOMMAND remains easy to learn and compatible with a variety of equipment. That isn’t the case with all machinery manufacturers, according to Daryl Patten, a district director of AGCO, based in Minnesota.

“You can buy a printer for your home, and you don’t need to know what computer you are going to run it on because it’ll work with any computer,” Patten says. “We’re not there yet on this precision technology in agriculture. But AGCO is determined to maintain that compatibility as a key to our approach.”

AGCO is doing its part to make that happen, says David Swain, manager of ATS Marketing North America. The company has been a full participant with AgGateway and the Agricultural Electronics Foundation, both of which are nonprofit consortia of agricultural businesses dedicated to setting standards for precision ag technologies, and establishing collaboration between all the businesses involved.

“We have made sure that our products in the precision technology field remain compatible with each other over years,” says Swain. “We also want to make them easy to use and compatible, even with other brands, because that helps our customers.”

To that end, AGCO recently announced a new initiative called Fuse Technologies that provides professional growers seamless integration and connectivity across all their farm assets—regardless of brand. Fuse will ensure communication between existing precision ag software already in use. As the strategy evolves, a major focus of the initiative will be to ensure an “open” approach to technology integration in AGCO equipment.

Now that these pathways for the technology are being paved, the emphasis is shifting to working with the data that’s being collected. “This is where AGCOMMAND comes in,” says Ben Studer, director of management for ATS and EFD (Electronic Function Group) for AGCO. “This is the key tool in the future of technology in agriculture.”

For example, readouts from the planter or cultivator might show that field conditions are actually still too wet to be worked—and may advise a two-day wait. Or the suite of technologies built into the system will have the ability to advise the best hybrids to use in changing conditions. Says Studer: “Today, all these decisions are being made by the farmer himself. But in the future, with farmers working more acres—sometimes with less help—one guy sitting at a desk can’t make every one of those decisions.” Such technology helps tie AGCO’s innovative equipment more fully into a complete solution for agricultural operations. For instance, if the machinery itself—through sensors and programs—isn’t helping you make determinations, then dealer-based advisers might be.

“The next thing on the horizon is remote service,” says Alan Woytassek, senior agricultural tech specialist for North Dakota-based Butler Machinery. “That’s where myself or one of our technicians can be 200 miles away and remotely diagnose calibration or setup issues with the machinery,” he says.

“We could literally push buttons on his cab screen, provided there are security levels set up. We can send a remote request to his display, and we can see his screen on our computer and walk him through, step by step, to correct overapplication or whatever the problem is.”

Missouri farmer Ken Salsman, 65, doesn’t doubt the potential of the technology. He recalls writing a paper in college on the future of agriculture that suggested tractors will drive themselves one day.

“I didn’t think I’d live to see that actually happen,” says Salsman. “But with autosteering, we’re seeing it now.” And as the innovations keep coming, an even more helpful future is upon us now.