New tech tractors may overcome labour shortages


Autonomous tractors like the recently unveiled concept vehicle by Case IH could spur new and exciting career paths in agriculture as well as overcoming labour shortages that cost Australian farmers more than $150m a year. Source: AFDJ eNews

According to a 2012 Senate inquiry into higher education and skills training to support future demand of agriculture and agribusiness in Australia, acute labour shortages cost Australian farmers more than $150 million a year in lost productivity, as they struggle to find specialist workers and technicians

According to Case IH this sort of technology can help to overcome these shortages, and allow workers to focus less on manual labour and more on the science of farming, helping to attract people into the industry.

“Automated vehicles running broad-scale farming operations open up new linkages between agricultural science and engineering. Combining an understanding of agricultural systems and high-tech engineering provides exciting new career pathways for the next generations to help feed and clothe the world,” Brett Whelan, Associate Professor in Precision Agriculture at the University of Sydney said.

At the recent GrowAg Summit held in Albury, Pete McCann, Case IH Marketing Manager Australia and New Zealand said: “There are a lot of different opportunities and the ACV really does open a very big door into ‘what’s next, what can we do?’

“Well, we can do anything. We just need to build on the technology.”

He says software developments featured in the ACV could enhance current Case IH models.

“Information and information control, rather than the actual hardware, are the biggest advances that I see in regards to where we’re up to with agricultural technology, and I think we’ll continue seeing this technology be incorporated into machines,” Mr McCann said.

“Look at how far we’ve come already – with steering for 16 years, ISO 4 on balers to control matter feed in, and so on.

“Building on this, the ACV shows how farmers can remotely monitor and control machines directly, giving greater operational efficiencies for tilling, planting, spraying, harvesting to just mention a few.

Case IH’s concept vehicle, a cabless row crop tractor, can operate autonomously with a wide range of paddock implements.

Through the use of radar, lidar (light imaging, detection, and ranging) and onboard video cameras, the vehicle can sense stationary or moving obstacles in its path and will stop on its own until the operator, notified by audio and visual alerts, assigns a new path.

The ACV can be controlled either via a desktop computer or a portable handheld tablet.

“Some of the components of the ACV such as information control, could eventually be applied to standard tractors,” said Mr McCann.

“These are very exciting times for farmers, as they and Case IH look at every avenue possible to optimise returns from every square centimetre of their farm.”