Sizing Up Future Efficiency and Payback of Equipment Automation

Smaller, lighter machinery could be a gateway to minimizing compaction, maximizing efficiency and increasing yields, says an Ohio State University technology expert.

One of the battles being waged on farms across the country is the technical obsolescence of precision equipment vs. the mechanical life of heavy machinery.

This is a concerning dilemma, especially as farm machinery continues to increase in size, says Scott Shearer, chair of Ohio State University’s Department of Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering.

“We have technology being substituted for iron today,” he says. “When a farmer buys a John Deere R tractor, it can last about 20,000 hours, assuming about 500 hours of use each year on a Midwest farm. That tractor could be on a farm for 40 years, but the technical value will be obsolete long before the mechanical life expires.”

The widening gap between the lifespan of technology, and the increasing size of equipment it controls, can have a dramatic impact on prolonged machinery performance, soil structure and yields, Shearer says.

One potential change in the future is a move to smaller, semi- or fully autonomous vehicles that will extend the life of technology and increase overall farm productivity.

Compaction Penalty

Maintaining soil structure is a priority for no-tillers, but since the advent of diesel engines in 1960, the ag industry has seen a sustained maximum increase of about 900 pounds of ballasted tractor mass per year, according to research conducted by the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab.

Shearer correlates the escalation in ballasted gross vehicle weight to the switch from spark-ignition to diesel engines as manufacturers produce larger, higher-horsepower tractors.

“We began to see that steady…

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Jack Zemlicka

Jack Zemlicka was the Technology Editor for No-Till Farmer. His coverage included precision farming practices, products and trends, which can improve efficiency and productivity for no-till farmers.

He joined Lessiter Publications Ag Division in 2012 and also served as managing editor of Strip-Till Farmer.

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