Our daily routines limit us when it comes to seeing, planning, and adapting for the future. I experience this when managing the Iowa Ag Expo and Nebraska Ag Expo. Year after year, I follow the same process for prospecting for new exhibitors, mapping floor plans, assigning booths, sending booth contracts, and arranging speakers.
My daily routine was uprooted in July, when the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association (INEDA), which owns and manages the Iowa Ag Expo and Nebraska Ag Expo, kicked off an initiative to bring new, innovative companies and products to the Nebraska Ag Expo—the Innovation Hub. This meant I had to map out a new area, relocate exhibitors, prospect at different events, research new companies online, collaborate with fellow staff more frequently, etc. It changed most of my normal workflow. As the project is coming together, I’ve learned that there is an entire different world of agriculture companies that we haven’t been exploring.
As dealers, do you get so familiar with your daily routine that you miss what is changing in agriculture right under your nose? Are you adequately preparing your business and employees for these changes? Will farmers continue to need and want your “normal” products?
Here are six trends in agriculture I’ve learned more about in the last two months:
While researching for the Innovation Hub, the first category of innovative products that I explored was autonomous equipment. Case IH opened the eyes of many producers when they showed a prototype at the 2016 Farm Progress Show. Since then, there haven’t been many “intros” in autonomous equipment. This year however, things are taking off. John Deere is talking autonomous. Case IH introduced their fertilizer spreader. Raven (now owned by Case IH) showed their OMNi Power unit. Sabanto Ag in Nevada, IA is converting tractors to autonomous.
The deeper I dove into autonomous equipment, the more I learned that there are still obstacles to overcome. When people hear autonomous, they picture units operating 24/7, which simply isn’t the case. Autonomous equipment is still limited by fuel, seed, chemical capacity, and signal loss. There are also obstacles, such as washout areas in fields. I’m learning that autonomous equipment is very complex, and it will be a while until it is fully implemented. Until then, it sure is fun to talk about!
In my mind, robotics (individual row units or units up to a width that are easy to transport) is more popular than autonomous equipment. Many dealers and I agree that the idea of agriculture robots makes economic sense and has great potential.
Fendt was one of the first to introduce this concept—the Xaver—at Agritechnica in 2017. I found at least five other companies that are developing or already created working units today. These row units can plant, cultivate, fertilize, spray, sow cover crop, etc.
Salin247, which will exhibit at both Expos this year, is a tracked 4-row toolbar capable of handling many tasks. Controlling weeds seems to be the biggest driver for robotics. Laser weeding and A.I. spraying can move much faster in the field if this technology only needs to focus on weeds within the planted crop. For this reason, along with more pressure to reduce chemical use, I believe that we will see robots cultivating crops in the future.
We’ve all seen electric lawn mowers. Now we are seeing electric construction equipment. There are electric skid loaders, mini-excavators, and mini-wheel loaders. Two companies are promoting electric sub-compact tractors, and a few more are moving toward electric riding mowers.
Carbon Imprint, Soil Health, and Regenerative Ag
Variations of these three terms can be found on many companies’ websites. You’ll hear about reactivating soil microbes and building up soil to be more productive. There has been an explosion in biological companies promoting root stimulants, microbes, nitrogen fixation, and other science that is way over my head. All of this leads to more no-till, strip-till, and carbon credit discussions.
If you attended the Farm Progress Show this year, you probably saw more strip-till tillage than conventional tillage. The trend toward strip-till is picking up speed. New companies such as Lyxn, AGuru, and Black Eagle Ag – to name a few – have appeared. Black Eagle Ag of Moline, IL is a start-up tillage company that began building strip-till equipment for Australia but is now finding success in Iowa and Illinois. If this trend continues, what is the market value for used conventional tillage?
About two years ago, farmers began asking about displays focused on organic farming at the Iowa Ag Expo. This year, we are adding an organic farming/regenerative ag category at the Nebraska Ag Expo, alongside the Innovation Hub.
I was surprised by the interest from exhibitors. Two companies that use flames to control weeds will exhibit at the Nebraska Ag Expo. Four companies that have specialized tillage for cultivation will also be there. Interestingly enough, the four companies are all from Europe (Garford RoboCrop—England; Einbock—Austria; Hatzenbichler—Austria; Treffler Organic Machinery—Netherlands).
Is it a coincidence that Europe was also the leader in disc mowers, high road-speed tractors, and high-speed tillage technology? I talked to crop.zone, which is a company that uses an electrical charge to kill weeds, at the Farm Progress Show. Guess what—they are from Germany. The interesting part is none of our dealer members sell this type of equipment (yet).
These are only a few of the observations that I’ve had over the last few months. What I’m leading up to is that our daily routines can keep us from taking the time to see, plan, and change for the future of our businesses. So much can be learned by attending events that focus on our industry and new technologies. Are you taking the time to attend these events and observe what farmers are learning? Are you ready to be the dealer for these new, innovative products? These companies are hungry for a dealer network. A part of my conversation with crop.zone was about who will service their equipment. Their answer is they don’t know yet—but they need someone.
Change up your routine and take the time to attend the Nebraska Ag Expo on December 6-8, 2022 in Lincoln, NE and the Iowa Ag Expo on January 31-February 2, 2023 in Des Moines, IA. Better yet, be the first to see everything in innovative agriculture equipment at Agritechnica in November 2023 in Hanover, Germany. Some of what I saw in 2019 at Agritechnica is just beginning to appear in the United States today.