Exploring Pathways of Efficiency
Technology has taken the agriculture industry by storm in the past several years, from advancements in GPS to data collection. With some farmers wanting more and more autonomy and data from their farms, some companies, such as Raven Industries, are listening to the requests and have been developing products since. AutoCart is a revolutionary fully automated grain cart that requires no driver; DOT was purchased by Raven Industries in 2020 from a group based out of Regina, Saskatchewan; and the power of drone technology are all examples of the direction agriculture is heading.
Autonomous vehicles are becoming more and more popular with the evolution of companies such as Tesla; but also beginning to make a name for itself in Agriculture. The company Raven Industries is on the fore-front of that evolution, with their release of a fully autonomous grain cart system set to release in 2021. The AutoCart bridges “the gap from human-operated to fully-autonomous platforms.” as per the Raven Industries website. The AutoCart assists farmers by setting up a field plan, staging locations for unloading, and adjusts speeds for both on the go unloading from the combine and driving across the field. The system comes with cameras and radars to apply to the driver tractor to help prevent collisions with humans, animals, and fence posts. The operating system is compatible with an iPad, Android devices, and Windows and the AutoCart is now open for pre-orders and will be available for the 2021 harvest season.
Another product from Raven Industries is one that was developed in Southern Saskatchewan and has been seen at many Ag shows in the past few years. The DOT Power Platform is an autonomous robot that is durable and capable of doing many different tasks on the farm. From seeding, spreading granular products to spraying pesticides or foliar fertilizers, the DOT can be used to replace several implements on the farm. DOT is its own separate robot, with 4 tires, diesel engine and u-shaped for easy hook up and detachment. The seeder comes equipped with a 30ft working width and a 340 bushel tank capacity; the spreader can hold 10 mt and has 16 section width control; the sprayer has a 1,600 US gallon capacity and is equipped with a 120ft aluminum boom making it quite an asset come in-crop spraying season. Raven has additional implements in the development phases as well. The DOT uses sensors for obstacle detection and can be controlled using a tablet, remote controller or a safety remote E-stop. As of now, DOT must be transported from field to field via a trailer, until authorities authorize the DOT to autonomously drive itself to each field. The DOT had a limited release in 2018 to select farmers but is not widely available yet.
Drones are another exciting piece of equipment that could play a bigger role in collecting data and give the farmer more information on his land. The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a generic term for the process of collecting the data through radars, satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing technology. Drones use sensors, radars and cameras on their body to collect the GIS and relay it into a map. Some examples of GIS include Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), thermal images, visual images, hyperspectral and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). LiDAR collects data from a remote sensor and turn your field into a 3D representation and can help show drainage issues, soil erosion and soil analysis. Thermal imagery can detect soil salinity issues as the problem areas will show up differently. Hyperspectral sensors detect the electromagnetic spectrum of colour and light and can detect diseases early (citrus greening), crop nutrition/fertilization and analysis of biochemical properties. Lastly, NDVI has been used extensively in agriculture for several years now, and uses the red, green and blue light that plants reflect to calculate how healthy the plant is and does this across a field. NDVI can be used in scouting to detect problem areas to save time, as the scout can head to the problem areas instead of trying to spend time finding them. Overall, drones can collect this information, but how the farmers apply this technology is up to them.
The ability to be able to operate a massive piece of equipment from a small, handheld tablet is quite incredible, but in many decades may become the norm on the farm. The AutoCart is just the beginning of Raven Industries plan to expand into more automated machinery, and DOT, having so many capabilities is right up there, especially with more implements being developed on top of what it can already do. Having a drone spend 10 minutes to fly over a field, then immediately knowing where to scout or sample plant or soil is a huge tool that could become more popular as a time-saving measure during peak times. The transition into these products is not a quick one and will take many years for the value of these products to really show themselves but does showcase the future of agriculture.
- By Carter Bodell