A global population of 10bn by 2050 has been predicted, meaning that the need to maximise harvest is more important than ever.
As with many industries, technology is helping to increase efficiencies in agriculture to maximise farm yield.
Leslie Scott, Precision AG specialist at Topcon Positioning Ireland, a leading technology supplier to the industry, explains how this technology is changing the face of farms across Ireland and the world.
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.
Automating farm machinery steering is not a new concept, in fact it heralds from the turn of the 20th century, but it 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.
This means that there’s now a way to eliminate over- and under-lapping and allow operators to focus on other tasks, such as business admin, helping to reduce driver fatigue, especially important during longer 18-hour summer working days.
The invention of machinery changed the face and capabilities of the sector, as it did with many others, and now automation technology is looking to do the same to take agriculture to the next level of efficiency and productivity. However, many farmers are missing the opportunity these innovations offer for a number of reasons, meaning technology and equipment manufacturers are having to get creative to overcome these barriers.
Last year, Krone, an industry-leading farm machinery manufacturer, 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 3,000 acres of land with positive feedback across the board.
Passion for the industry
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.”
The Topcon technology installed on our BiG M is very easy to set up and follow
After experiencing the Krone machinery and Topcon technology in action, Padraig Noonan, of Noonan Agri-Contractors, knew the solution was right for his mowing and business needs.
He said: “The Topcon technology installed on our BiG M is very easy to set up and follow, it’s been a big help for my team out in the fields. As it’s so easy to use with just three taps to start and simple to follow and adjust, we’ve seen a 12% rise in productivity across the team.
“It’s saving us by helping us to work more efficiently, meaning there’s more time to focus on servicing our fleet of machines, and keeping our operators fresh because it’s just so simple to use.
"Even in the various ditches and under trees when we sometimes inevitably lose satellite, the technology makes it so easy to adjust which is really key for us for the land we manage.
"The team particularly likes the headland turn feature; now we have it, we wouldn’t be without it.
“The investment into this technology is so relatively small to elevate the capability of the machines, and we’ve really seen it pay for itself since having the BiG M since May.
We use lots of this kind of tech, but we’ve found this Topcon solution is particularly straightforward for our operators to use. For any farmer considering technology like Topcon’s, I can’t recommend it enough.”
The benefits of this technology are beyond cost and efficiency improvements, as reduction in driver fatigue also means our farms are becoming safer.
The Health and Safety Authority still lists farming and agriculture as the most dangerous sector in Ireland, with 18 fatalities during 2019 and the majority of that being attributed to being trapped or crushed by machinery.
With the technology doing the bulk of the draining work, operators stay fresh and alert to the various dangers we’re all accustomed to on working land.
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 such as 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 and their safety, rather than the intricacies of their machine.
With machinery developing from automation to eventual level five autonomy, technology like this is making the end goal closer than ever.
As more such as Noonan Agri-Contractors see the benefits themselves through manufacturers such as Krone and technology specialists such as Topcon, the momentum of digital transformation in the industry is only set to grow.
For more information about Topcon’s X25 and X35 solutions, visit: www.topconpositioning.com/ie/agriculture/autosteering