This year AGCO hired a new PhD agronomist for North America and gave him the task of testing the effects of today’s equipment and high-tech features when used in the real world. Speaking to a group of journalists at the brand’s Jackson, Minnesota, facility this summer, Jason Lee gave an update on the progress of his first year of trials.
The trouble for Lee — or perhaps the unique opportunity — was the extremely wet growing conditions across most of the U.S. Midwest this spring.
“We’re kind of in uncharted waters here,” he said. “You don’t plant corn in the first week of June. But this gives us a chance to learn. How can we start to manage in these extreme weather patterns we’re seeing?”
With government funding for agricultural research having pretty much dried up over the last decade or two in Canada and the U.S., much of the responsibility for R&D has been taken on by brands that want to prove their machinery offers a payback.
AGCO started its field demonstration project a couple of years ago as part of this program, but Lee aims to ramp that up and get much more data. AGCO will make that data available to growers.
“The crop tour was started back in 2016,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to take some of the new machinery technologies that are out there and put them to the test in a real-world situation in farmers’ fields. All these trials are large-scale field trials. That really helps with the applicability of the data. We’re going out into farmers’ fields to learn with them.
“This is the first year we’re initiating the tillage trials. Why do we need to do research on tillage? We’ve been doing tillage for decades. Don’t we have that figured out by now? I guess the answer to that is a lot of our belief around tillage is just based on opinions and maybe not necessarily real facts.
“We’re really trying to look at different tillage practices this year, and use that as the springboard for the following years, to say, ‘OK, what are the meaningful comparisons we need to do in future years so we can start building a large data set?’”
With a number of new styles of machines coming to the North American market recently, farmers now have more choice than ever when shopping for tillage implements. But which is the best choice? Lee’s program aims to help farmers answer that question through better understanding of how these various tillage tools affect crop and seeder performance. Lee says it’s also an education for agronomists.
The AGCO program will focus on side-by-side comparisons, comparing various implements in the same field. At the moment most of the brand’s efforts are in Illinois and Wisconsin, but Lee says the geographical scope of them is set to expand much farther.
“We have a lot of locations,” he said. “And the more locations we have, the bigger data set we can build. And hopefully we can see some consistent patterns across all the locations. Hopefully, we can zone in on which tillage practices work best for certain locations, topography, soil type, and things of that nature.”
Although the main crop focus at the moment is on corn, trials are also being conducting under other cropping systems. Using sensor data from seeding and planting implements will provide information that hasn’t been as easily obtainable before.
“They (real-time sensors placed on seeders) were set on different parameters,” he said. “Such as what was the moisture percentage in that furrow? What was the soil temperature? How much down force was required to meet the depth we wanted? And also, what was the per cent residue in the furrow?
“This is just the beginning of these tillage trials. We’re going to continue to monitor what were the yield differences between the different types of tillage.”