In fact, he can. According to an industry report by the Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI) on digital trends in the Russian economy, the VTZ tractor plant has been conducting field tests with exactly this setting for several years. Russian agriculture is also working with satellites and drones to monitor plant growth in real time. According to GTAI, farmers in the US, on the other hand, are focusing not only on expanding their machinery, but also on networking existing technology. The trend here is clearly leaning toward Big Data – more data must be collected and analyzed in order to save time and production costs. And what about smart agriculture in Germany?
How Do Digitization and Sustainable Agriculture Fit Together?
Digital technologies are booming in Germany, according to a study presented in April 2020 by the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (Bitkom) and the German Farmers’ Association. According to the study, most farmers are convinced that digitization enables environmentally friendly production. The portfolio of digital options begins with predictive maintenance of machinery and equipment, in which the evaluation of sensor data provides early warning of impending failures. This variant is used by around 19 percent of the companies surveyed. Around a third use sensor technology to measure climate, soil, and plant data. Also about a third of companies are planning to use intelligent and site-specific application of crop protection products or fertilizers. 40 percent of all farmers work with agricultural apps for smartphones and tablets, and another 40 percent control their operations with the help of special farm management systems. At 45 percent, the use of agricultural machinery controlled via GPS is comparatively widespread.
Tractors Offer Assistance Systems with Sophisticated Capabilities
Indeed, tractors play a key role on the path to digital and sustainable agriculture. Modern machines and implements have little in common with the legendary farm tractors and agricultural diesel engines from Allgaier, Deutz, and Eicher of yore. They’re powerful computer systems that work in tandem with versatile electronic assistants, which process data like soil moisture, soil type, working depth, and attachment, and use it to determine recommendations for the required additional ballast. In future, it’s quite possible that the combine harvester could be threshing grain while the farmer does the bookkeeping in the cab. In a joint research project called “Driver’s Cab 4.0”, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is currently researching how an intelligent workplace could give the operator this freedom in harvesting operations.
Does the Electric Drive Train Stand a Chance in Modern Tractors?
Of course, the icing on the cake of modern tractor technology would be a drive train with electric propulsion – especially since new tractors have to comply with the Euro Stage V exhaust emission limits since January 1, 2020. It’s true that there already are concepts for a hybrid electric drive here and there, in which a generator converts the entire output of the combustion engine into electrical power for the electric motor. However, a pure battery-electric drive has so far not been able to replace the diesel, at least in the heavy weight classes. After all, a tractor has to be able to plow the fields twelve hours a day with a heavy load. Agricultural experts have calculated that the batteries required would weigh around 15 tons. Such a vehicle wouldn’t stand a chance in the field.