Last week involved yet another road trip as I headed south to take in the U.S. Farm Progress show in Boone, Iowa. This year all four of the major brands coordinated their primary new product launches around that event.
For its official launch, John Deere invited members of the farm media to its nearby Des Moines assembly plant the day before the farm show started. All of us journalists were given a look around the plant, a close look at the new equipment and ample opportunity to talk with product specialists.
One of the machines Deere gave us a look at was a typical 4000 Series sprayer. Nothing new in that, but what was hanging off the back was the story. It had a carbon fibre boom. That feature isn’t yet ready for production here in North America, although Deere has been selling them in Brazil for a while now.
Why carbon fibre? To start with, it offers about a 30 percent reduction in weight over steel, and it’s apparently more durable than aluminum. It’s also easy to fix. Deere sells a quick repair kit in Brazil that can have a damaged boom back in operation after just a three hour drying time. Repairs are made in a manner similar to fibreglass.
When I tweeted a picture of that, it certainly got a response.
With machinery sales slumping this year, I didn’t expect to see a great deal of market-ready new equipment on the show grounds. But there actually was. Many of the new introductions were updates to existing equipment lines. There were, however, some notable exceptions to that.
Hands down, I’d have to say the machine that stole the show was Case IH’s robot Magnum. This futuristic looking, 400 horsepower, cab-less tractor was a virtual people magnet. The crowd around it just didn’t seem to ever die down.
It was a concept machine, though, not yet available to pull a drill around your back 40. According to Case IH’s marketing staff, the brand’s reason for showing it was to get feedback from farmers. There were several young women walking around with an iPad taking surveys from farmers about what they envisioned a robot tractor doing on their own farms. What those responses are will play a role in any future development of robotic tractors according to brand executives.
Case IH’s sister brand, New Holland, had a similar robot tractor to show. It was built on a production T8 model. But that robot tractor did have a cab. The idea there was it could do everything the cab-less Magnum could do, but it could easily be used as an ordinary tractor too. And just like at the Case IH display, more iPad-carrying survey takers were busy canvassing the crowd.
NH executives even spoke about the potential of providing a retro-fit robotic control kit that could work in a variety of tractors.
It’s hard to say when we’ll see these robots offered as production machines. But it seems safe to say we will see them appear in some form, and it isn’t likely to be too far down the road. That’s the way the industry is headed.
If you don’t envision robots labouring on your farm and you are a mixed operator or solely a livestock producer, Kubota’s exhibit might have interested you. Ever since that Japan-based brand took over the Norwegian hay and tillage equipment manufacturer Kverneland, it has been offering balers painted in Kubota orange. But they were the smaller four-foot wide models. Now, however, Kubota is set to release a baler that can build a 5 x 6 foot bale. The Canadian release is apparently due shortly.
Keep an eye on upcoming issues of Grainews for more from the show.