Harvest is that time of year when every minute counts, and there probably isn’t a grower who hasn’t cut corners in some way to save time and cover a few more acres while the weather holds.
Taking a gamble by not removing a very wide header from a combine to move it down a public road to the next field is one of those things that seems to happen all too often — but that can be a very dangerous shortcut. In fact, a fatal collision with a combine header was the impetus for creating the Lighting and Marking of Agricultural Implements Regulations enacted by Prairie provinces many years ago.
This spring, AGCO introduced the AutoDock feature for its line of Ideal Fendt combines, which turns mounting and dismounting a combine header into a job that takes a few seconds instead of minutes. According to AGCO, it only takes five seconds to reconnect an Ideal combine to its header using AutoDock. The time savings is only one aspect of the advantages the brand sees in AutoDock — it’s also one more step on the road toward greater harvesting equipment automation.
“One touch of the in-cab control terminal starts the five-second AutoDock process, eliminating trips for the operator from the cab to the combine head,” says Kevin Forth, AGCO senior tactical marketing manager. “We’re very excited to introduce this technology because it is a key first step on the way to totally automating the harvesting process in the future. And it’s a nice follow-up to IDEALdrive joystick steering, which is another example of AGCO’s intentional creation of smart solutions for our farmer customers.”
With AutoDock, there’s no need to even get out of the cab. Instead, the operator lifts the header from the ground or trailer with the combine, then pushes the attach icon on the touch-screen control panel. AutoDock uses guide pins and hydraulic actuators to automatically connect the drives on both sides of the header, connecting all mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems with a single-point coupler while mechanically latching the header in place. Pushing the detach icon reverses the process when it’s time to remove the header.
Once header settings are initially programmed into the combine’s computer, the operator selects the specific header, and the combine automatically configures the appropriate settings to use.
At the moment, the system is only compatible with AGCO’s own DynaFlex 9300 series draper head, which is available in widths from 30 to 50 feet, and 3300 Command series corn heads equipped with AutoDock drivelines and adapters for the multi-coupler attachment. However, Forth says the brand expects to have the system compatible with third-party headers sometime in the near future.
Both AutoDock and the IDEALdrive joystick control won AE50 awards from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), which presents engineering awards annually.
Picking a favourite machinery brand
Several years ago, I had a conversation with a friend from Europe who works as a media liaison officer for agricultural affairs there. We were talking about the different machinery brands popular on that continent and she mentioned in Germany it is a commonly acknowledged goal of most young farmers there to eventually own a Fendt tractor.
For a long time, the brand’s tractors were the only ones packed with the high-end features that earned them a reputation as premium machines. To German farmers they are, so to speak, the BMW of tractors.
The Fendt tractor brand was born and bred in southern Germany, and for decades they were only sold in Europe.
After AGCO purchased the brand, Fendt has been on a steady path to global distribution, offering a growing range of Fendt-branded machines well beyond its original tractor line. AGCO may have changed Fendt from a regional tractor brand to a growing full-line global marque, but that hasn’t made it any less of a favourite as far as German farmers are concerned, even
as other brands incorporate similar premium features into their tractors.
A recent DLG (German Agricultural Society) survey taken in 2020 questioned a sampling of German farmers about their views on machinery brands. They asked farmers to voice their opinions about brands in four categories — awareness, loyalty, satisfaction and image. Given what my friend had to say, it may be no surprise Fendt again came out as No. 1 among German farmers — and by quite a long shot. It stood eight points ahead of its nearest rival, John Deere.
That favoured status is represented in German tractor sales numbers too, with Fendt at or near the top in all horsepower categories.
Europeans are much more open about the numbers of farm machines sold in each country and by each brand, something manufacturers here keep a closely guarded secret. We can’t say for certain who dominates the market in Canada, although it’s possible to make an educated guess. It would make for an interesting survey to replicate the DLG survey among Canadian farmers to see how the numbers work out in this part of the world.