My feet have recovered. My brain may not. That was my first thought as I made the last trip through one of the buildings at Agritechnica near the end of the show. From startups to technology from established players, this show is chock full of brands and equipment U.S. farmers may never see. But it's also becoming a focus for the evolving agtech conversation due to its work with European universities that have space in the exhibit halls.
That means you get your fair share of never-to-market prototypes and other ideas that may or may not be commercial. Yet these developments show the trends that will shape agriculture going into the future. Here's a quick take of what I learned after spending some time ruminating about the trip.
1. The robots are coming
Make no mistake, autonomy is alive and well as an idea in Europe as well as in the United States with plenty to see at Agritechnica. And there are a range of ideas being exploited from university students trying new shapes and sizes to major manufacturers toying with new ideas.
There were a fair number of smaller autonomous vehicles, building on the idea that robots may help solve compaction issues by using smaller machines working 24/7 to cover farm work. The autonomous tractor is still "in development" but from what I saw smaller devices using custom tools may be working on a farm near you soon.
2. Electrification and what it means
I noted the electrification issue in the gallery published recently about Agritechnica, and this is a trend that was on display throughout the show. From electric assist that uses an add-on generator to send power to a motor in an implement for added traction, to hybrid tractors that put power to the wheels in new ways, electrification is a hot topic.
The key is carbon emissions and the idea is to reduce or eliminate exhaust from getting into the atmosphere. But electric power could cut diesel power needs as well, allowing a four-cylinder to do the work where a six cylinder might have been needed in the past; a generator would provide extra power when needed. The mining industry has long used electric generators to move machines, as have railroads. Given the pressures on farm machine size and emissions, it's no surprise that those long-time mining technologies might make their way to the farm in some form.
An adjunct to this is of course alternative fuels, and that was on hand too. The idea that farmers may someday take methane made from manure, clean it and compress it to fuel on-farm machines is a circle-of-life kind of move that is gaining interest too.
3. Cultivation returns?
There was a phrase that could be heard from different stands at Agritechnica as if it were a mantra for future agriculture: farm with less chemicals. This is an equipment show and using less for crop protection products is in the interest of many exhibitors. However, in Europe there's serious talk about banning glyphosate and that has many wondering what to do next.
Enter the cultivator. There were some interesting examples of units that can be used to terminate cover crops, and others for in-season weed-stopping work. With GPS, the days of cultivator blight are over, but are you ready to be back in the cab for those long days pulling a machine between the rows? Perhaps I should recommend going back to item 1.
4. Smart farming
It's official, everyone is smart farming. Every stand talked about smart farming, for some of us dumb farming was fine. Of course, we're talking about the use of data to help make better decisions. Tools that help identify weeds and diseases to make more efficient use of chemicals.
It appears that if you want to survive for the future, you'll need to get "smarter." The good news is there are a lot of companies ready to help. Many companies, even those without out apparent external tech – I won't call them out by name – were using the "smart" term in their exhibits.
5. Data sharing
A challenge to smart farming is getting information from each field machine into farm management software. But the DataConnect deal that includes Case IH, New Holland, Claas and John Deere will make a difference. This is a global standard that will be available to farmers in the U.S. as well in early 2020. It starts with machine data, but it won't be long before you'll be passing yield maps from one combine of color into software that'll allow you to do prescription maps for a competitive sprayer.
There are other data-sharing standards in Europe, and the rules are clear: the farmer owns the data. The key is that the world of the 'separate' data cloud is nearing an end. Mixed fleet owners will be able to access their information on a single system with these new agreements. That will make a big difference in how you put data to use.
Plenty to see, and even more to ponder. Agritechnica did not disappoint.