Technology In Europe: AgriTechnica Perspectives

AgriTechnica is a monstrous agriculture trade event in Germany that, every other year in November, focuses on production agriculture. A couple of friends of PrecisionAg eNews were in attendance at the show, and I asked them to be quasi-correspondents and share some scoop from event.

Dave King, marketing manager at Ag Leader Technology, admitted he was barely able to leave the company’s booth because he was so busy serving attendees. But he did share a few observations with us:

Eastern Interest. There was a of interest in technology from the Eastern European countries and Russia. There was group after group of Russians walking the show looking for the latest technology and scrambling to get distribution rights. There is a lot of money being spent to update the ag equipment in Russia.

Rig Manufacturers Seek New Technology. There was a lot of interest in controllers for sprayers and spreaders from manufacturers around the world. Manufacturers were looking to find new technology that offered features they don’t currently have but customers are demanding. There is always a lot of sprayer and spreader manufacturers at the show but I was surprised to see how many of them at the show were not from Europe. A lot of them are trying to establish distribution in Europe with an eye on Eastern Europe and Russia.

Even More International. The Agritechnica show has always been an international show but this one was even more so. I spoke with people from every country in Europe and Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan. There were far more international visitors this year than there ever has been in my opinion.
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Kelly Sullivan e-mailed me right before the show and asked if she could provide some insight. Kelly had most recently helped to coordinate the International Conference on Precision Agriculture in Minnnesota in 2004, and is steeped in knowledge of the industry. She took a brief hiatus from the industry, and very recently moved to Berlin to join her husband, John Ahlrichs, a long-time precision agriculture expert now who works for RapidEye, a Europe-based remote imagery company.

Kelly actually got to walk the show floor, so her “woman on the street” observations are pretty interesting:

I attended the last day of Agritechnica with a group of friends—I was curious to see how much precision agriculture had changed in the past three years. It was an amazing event with 16 exhibition halls housing agricultural equipment and software for every possible production scheme.

Concurrent to the trade show were several venues: the World Soil and Tillage Show; a live workshop in collaboration with the Association of German Agricultural Machinery Dealers and Crafts demonstrating equipment repair/maintenance/conversion; the bioenergy center; field robot demonstrations, and approximately 200 one hour forums on various agri-production subjects. Roughly 10,000 European Young Farmers and Students attended Agritechnica and then stayed on for their meeting afterward.

I have not encountered so many people per square foot since my old rock concert days. It could have been Anywhere USA, with everyone in jeans and jackets and a similar crowd “feel”— except for the ubiquitous currywurst stands and really awesome beer.

I had a lot of trouble with this one—everything was in German or Russian, and I speak neither. I’ve been to international trade shows before and English was more commonly spoken. So with that caveat, here are some general impressions:

Iron still rules and captures the imaginations of those in attendance. The tractor hall was packed with people and surveys indicated that two thirds of the producers will make buying decisions at the show. At this show, 46% of the producers have smaller than 250 acre farms, yet the really big rigs took center stage. Roughly 16% of those attending farmed more than 2,500 acres, largely from east Germany and former Eastern Block countries. The old farm collectives were privatized and now many are being purchased by oil companies. They are flush with cash and were reportedly on a mission to buy equipment and technology. [The running joke at Agritechnica was if you wanted to capture a rep’s attention, speak Russian]. These Eastern Block farms operate with many of the constraints that American farmers face — a lot of land to cover in very little time. There were a lot of huge farming implements — hay rakes, tillage equipment, and planters. Horsch had a 60-foot planter with trailing seed tender supporting up to four different seed sources.

John Deere won one of the Neuheit Innovator Gold Medals for its E-Premium series electrical power network in tractors. The fan, air compressor, air conditioning system plus the onboard 12 volt network is powered by a generator flanged directly to the crankshaft. Also, when the vehicle is standing, electrical devices can be operated from a plug socket with 230 volt or via 3-phase socket with 230/400 volt (5kW).

The Kinderfinder, another Neuheit Innovation winner, employed RFID technology. RFID coded radio chips are built into bracelets or children’s clothing and onboard receiver aerials are placed on the equipment’s front and back. An alarm sounds in the cab if there is a child within up to 100 meters of the equipment.

In small tractors, my personal favorite was one manufactured by Ferrari. Incredible design, it made you want to spend your entire day driving.

One statistic that may reflect a coming change in German equipment purchase is the projection that roughly 30% of the land will be sold and consolidated into larger operations as boomers retire. This may shift future equipment purchases to larger tractors, etc.

Guidance systems booths were well trafficked, with many of the global players present.

There seemed to be more open architecture of software, with a greater ability to move data around and link equipment from different vendors than seen earlier.

Regulatory concerns are still a major driver for data collection and use in decision aids. Europeans are obligated to justify their pesticide and fertilizer applications relative to environmental conditions and production goals. Geospatial tracking of applications is key.

Consultants still develop yield maps and use other map layers derived from historical data, but there is a shift to real time sensors measuring chlorophyll and biomass to adjust nutrient application rates and to determine plant stress. For instance, Yara has developed on-the-go tractor mounted infrared N-sensors that read chlorophyll levels, the data is run through a rate controller and variable rate fertilizer is applied. Another firm uses aerial and satellite imagery as a scouting tool to assess stress and nutrient deficiency and then uses this data to develop a variable rate map for fertilizer application. There were also handheld units for conducting research.

Applications for sensor technology were displayed in many booths. One of the Neuheit Innovation winners scanned broken corn kernels and non-grain constituents on the combine conveyor and computed grain quality. The operator could then optimize combine settings to improve harvest quality.

There were several vendors featuring PDAs with GPS and customized software for collecting georeferenced data and displaying maps. AGRO-SAT’s PDA displays yield maps, chlorophyll maps and soil test data and transmits to a controller via Bluetooth technology. Also, with a system developed by agrocom, users could go online to Google Earthmap and visualize map layers online over the satellite image. The data is used to pre-plan applications and provide regulatory documentation, also to perform cost analysis and assist in decision making. The software provided a user-friendly interface for georeferenced data collection with PDAs and served as a reference in the field. Application maps could then be uploaded to a chip and read by the controller for variable rate application.

LandData Eurosoft was one of the most popular booths, demonstrating its financial management software that performs business analyses, and calculates payroll, taxes, and production costs.

GPS tracking equipment was employed by one group for sugar beet harvest logistics. Equipment, fields, and routes were tracked, planned and verified. It was an innovation winner for the event.

Drones with onboard cameras for field scouting were displayed.

A German online subscription service, Expert.com, is available for weather data and field specific insect and disease forecast, with models that factor crop stage of development, varietal sensitivity, previous crop, soil, nitrogen, and current local weather conditions. The organization conducts independent trials to determine product efficacy and offer treatment options, and to evaluate cultivar/varietal susceptibility to disease.

In terms of services, there were a few large multi-national precision agriculture consulting firms. They largely assisted with data collection, interpretation and management. Several had customized equipment developed for their consultants.

Statistics: 2,247 companies from 36 countries exhibited, a 40% increase from 2005. Foreign exhibitors increased from 33% of the total exhibitors in 2005 to 43% in 2007.

Over 340,000 farmers and agri-professionals attended, including 260,000 from Germany and 71,000 from abroad. This represents a 60% increase in foreign visitors from 2005, particularly from Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Italy, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. The number of visitors from Central and Eastern Europe doubled from the 2005 event, with over 14,000 farm decision makers and investors from the former Soviet Union, especially Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic, and Belarus.

Thanks to Dave and Kelly for some really interesting insight. If you have any questions or comments, post them here and we’ll get you some answers.

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