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Raven’s automated grain cart operation next step to autonomy

Combine and tractor talk to each other, with operators in both cabs, making harvest more efficient and less stressful.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

August 30, 2023

2 Min View

An automated solution for increasing harvest efficiency became real when Raven launched pre-ordering for its Harvesting Automation Solution at the Farm Progress Show. You can pre-order this high-tech solution now and expect delivery in January 2024.

Meanwhile, several farmers across the Corn Belt will continue testing the technology this fall, reporting results to Raven. Ben Voss, Raven sales manager, believes this is an important milestone in the march toward autonomous equipment. In fact, Raven introduced it as a level 3, driver-assisted automation pathway.

There is still a driver in the tractor, but he or she doesn’t have to be a skilled grain cart operator. Matt Horne, also with Raven, explains that thanks to the automated solution, the combine operator gains control of the tractor pulling the grain cart. Systems within the tractor and combine talk to one another, allowing the tractor to respond to the direction of the combine operator.

For example, if the tractor and grain cart are behind, the combine operator can signal it to increase speed, up to 15 miles per hour. Once the combine begins unloading, the combine operator can speed up or slow down the cart, allowing him or her to fill the cart full without spillage. He or she can also nudge the tractor and cart left or right to move in or out in relation to the combine.

“This isn’t cellular communication,” Voss explains. “We’re doing it through radio signals. We’re creating a communication link so the combine and tractor can talk with each other.”

The cost for this next step in technology is reasonable, Voss believes. Expect it to list at about $5,000 per cab, assuming the tractor and combine are already equipped with precision agriculture hardware and software.

Initially, it’s available for late model CNH combines and tractors, including the Steiger tractor. It works with tractors with CRV or power-shift transmissions. Eventually, it may be offered for other makes or older CNH models, although setting it up on older equipment could be more costly if more adaptations are needed.

Why this step?

Why is Raven introducing this automated solution when it has already demonstrated that a fully autonomous grain cart with no driver is possible? Spokesmen indicate it is a logical next step that many farmers may be ready for, even ones that aren’t yet ready to put trust in fully autonomous operations with no driver.

“We did extensive surveys and found that 65% of users would be interested in an automated solution for harvest,” Horne says. “About 70% of those who said they were interested listed finding qualified labor to run the grain cart as the number one factor. Expanding profitability, reducing operator stress and reducing grain spillage were also important.”

Raven engineers suggest that Raven Cart Automation can reduce stress for the tractor operator by 22% and by 33% for the combine operator. “This isn’t just based on some survey,” Horne says. “Those are based on actual measurements of heart rate and other key indicators of stress in both combine and tractor drivers.”

Video by Jen Koukol, Addie Bennett

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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