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Connecting agri-tech to boost farmers’ productivity

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“Farmers want machinery to do the job, they don’t really care about how the systems work or the electronics behind them. This is why we’re launching a new database user-interface in October that enables farmers, dealers and manufacturers to check the ISOBUS status of their equipment,” says Norbert Schlingmann (feature image) of The Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation, who will be sharing his insights on the seamless integration between agricultural machinery and devices at Agri-Tech East’s ‘The Connected Farm’ event on 15 October.

Norbert, an experienced ag electronics engineer, continues: “Farmers need to be able to connect implements such as seeders or sprayers to their tractors and for the equipment to ‘plug and play’. The international standards are designed to facilitate this interoperability, but AEF found that many components marked as ISOBUS compliant were not. Therefore, we have created guidelines for manufacturers and developed an online database that will allow farmers and others to check their tractor or component’s ISOBUS certification.”

ISOBUS is an international standard for agricultural electronics, which was developed to ensure interoperability of equipment – a prerequisite of precision agriculture that is still on the wish-list of so many farmers.

With over 20.5 billion connected devices projected to be in use by 2020, there is still a lot of work to be done – as Callum Chalmers of FarmScan AG knows only too well. FarmScan AG is one of the first agri-tech companies to release an autonomous module for its precision control platform, opening up its product for integration by other manufacturers.

Callum comments: “Interoperability is a huge problem. The ISOBUS protocol is one of the solutions that is reasonably advanced, but we’re going to have a challenge with all of the other devices that are being developed and how well connected they can be.

“Systems not being able to integrate is becoming a bigger issue for farmers; to get agri products that actually work with each other. Farmers can’t fix this, it’s not their responsibility, it’s the role of manufacturers and technology companies to fix it.”

Equipping farmers with easy-to-use systems that enable agri-tech integration is crucial for an effective agricultural industry moving forwards, and this is at the core of AEF and FarmScan AG’s work.

To improve and future-proof their software, FarmScan AG has started working with Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions to upscale the original Hands Free Hectare project, from autonomous machines remotely growing the first hectare of arable crop to a site 35 times the size. In three years, the team plans to have a completely connected, autonomous farm supported by the FarmScan AG platform.

Callum, who will be sharing early findings from the project at ‘The Connected Farm’ event in Cambridge, explains: “Our goal is to deliver software that adds value to the farmer and gives them control over their data, not locking them in.

“Making connected devices is easy, but ensuring they actually connect – especially in rural areas – is the hard part. We’re excited to be working on a project that is about ensuring that every device, autonomous vehicle and the whole farm infrastructure is connected up.”

Similarly AEF’s work, with five test laboratories across Europe and the USA certifying ISOBUS equipment, enables farmers to run compatibility checks for different machines so they can make informed decisions about what will slot into their existing operations. In October, the company will also be launching a user-friendly version of their ISOBUS compatibility database, which farmers, manufacturers and the wider industry can access.

“We are working toward compatibility for the thousands of pieces of machinery in the database. Our major goal is to achieve this for every ISOBUS equipped machine across the world,” says Norbert.

Dr Belinda Clarke, director of the membership organisation Agri-Tech East, adds: “Ensuring that we have connected agri-tech is a critical step in farmers being able to utilise what’s on offer, helping to achieve greater productivity, profitability and sustainability.

“AEF, FarmScan, Grounddata and others who we’re delighted will be sharing their solutions at The Connected Farm are excellent examples of this, where the Internet of Things and that crucial interoperability are at the forefront of smart agri-tech.”

AEF’s Nobert Schlingmann, Callum Chalmers of FarmScan AG, Grounddata’s Simon Breese and other agri-tech experts will be speaking at Agri-Tech East’s ‘Re-visiting the Vision of the Connected Farm’ on Tuesday 15 October 2019, 4 – 7pm, at Barclays Eagle Labs Cambridge CB4 3AZ.

Find out more at www.agritech-east.co.uk/events.

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