Precision FarmingServicesDeal­er­ships and contrac­tors:
A strong team

Intro­ducing preci­sion tech­nolo­gies into day to day farming prac­tice can be a chal­lenge. However, no one needs to start out alone. We place the spot­light on two stake­holders in the green sector, who are playing a central role in the adop­tion of digital agri­cul­ture: Deal­er­ships and agri­cul­tural contrac­tors.

We have made a huge leap forward over the past two years.” Florian Straten greets people at the LVD Krone deal­er­ship office, in the munic­i­pality of Spelle in the north-west of Germany. A live­stock farming region, where maize alter­nates with grass­land. “There was a time when front-axle suspen­sion or air-condi­tioning were optional features,” smiles Mr Straten. In a few years from now, guid­ance systems will undoubt­edly become a stan­dard feature. On the dealership’s machines, it is already pre-inte­grated and ISOBUS ready.

Today, 70% of the firm’s customers use equip­ment with guid­ance systems, reveals the AMS expert. And this stan­dard­i­s­a­tion brings with it a deeper evolu­tion of prac­tical appli­ca­tions. “Every customer who purchases a tractor creates an account in the Oper­a­tions Centre. From that moment, the machine itself begins to docu­ment the plots. The customer chooses to use this infor­ma­tion or not, but the data­base is already there.” As a result, the step towards switching to preci­sion farming has been greatly reduced.

This regional trend reflects a more general one, in Germany as well as in Europe. Digital tools become attrac­tive when it comes to renewing equip­ment. The resale price and compli­ance with envi­ron­mental stan­dards are just some of the posi­tive argu­ments. However, connected agri­cul­ture does not only mean connecting the machines, but also the stake­holders. In this new green revo­lu­tion, “deal­er­ships are an essen­tial link between the devel­opers of tech­nolo­gies and those who use them,” summarises Mr Straten.

Contractor Ingo Janssen in conver­sa­tion with Florian Straten.

Field support

farmer left with it and, unless a problem arose, we never saw him again. Today, with preci­sion farming, the subse­quent follow-up support is much more sustained.”

There are, of course, some obsta­cles that dealers must help users to remove, like compat­i­bility issues. “Customers have fleets composed of various types of equip­ment. So, the data flow factor becomes rele­vant.” To opti­mise matters on farm, inter­ac­tion with colleagues from other brands is useful, says Mr Straten. “Certainly, the Oper­a­tions Centre is changing very quickly. We can read and transfer most formats.”

Another conse­quence of the digi­ti­sa­tion is that deal­er­ship support is more closely inte­grated with the phys­ical farming prac­tices. Mr Straten describes exchanges that go beyond the machinery aspect: “When we work with the client in MyJohn­Deere, we go into greater detail about their crop­ping systems. With the appli­ca­tion maps, the discus­sion moves to the agro­nomic aspects of the land. For example, we need to tell them: ‘Look, you have used the same seed density for the past 20 years, we can opti­mise it to increase the yield’.”

Stand out from the compe­ti­tion

In deploying these new tools, the deal­er­ships can count on a strong ally, says Mr Straten: “Agri­cul­tural contrac­tors are another essen­tial bridge between the equip­ment manu­fac­turer and farmers. It does not really matter what we as dealers tell the farmer. When they see that their service provider already has the tech­nology avail­able, and what they are doing with it, they become much more inclined to equip them­selves with this tech­nology.”

A lot of our customers switch to preci­sion farming each year.

Florian Straten

So what is the contractor’s view? “This is an extremely compet­i­tive industry,” explains Ingo Janssen, head of a family busi­ness founded in 1958 (more than 30 salaried employees and 25 seasonal workers). Today, like before, reli­a­bility and work power remain the essen­tial busi­ness criteria. “But that is not enough to stand out. You also must be a force for inno­va­tion. What makes me, as a contractor, more useful to the customer than the compe­ti­tion? Smart farming is predes­tined for this, so to speak.”

Through this reflec­tion he became inter­ested in the Cultan tech­nique (Controlled Uptake of Long Term Ammo­nium Nutri­tion). The prin­ciple is to deposit ammo­nium in rows to a depth of 50mm, using discs fitted with injec­tors. Ammo­nium, unlike nitrates, does not leach out, but attaches itself to soil parti­cles; there­fore 10-20% of fertiliser can be saved. This method also promotes root growth, a plus for yields in the face of water stress. When using this method Mr Janssen applies site-specific ammo­nium based on avail­able field infor­ma­tion.

For Florian Straten, traders are an indis­pens­able link between the devel­opers of the tech­nolo­gies and those who use them.

Simplify the work of live­stock owners

Here too, digi­ti­sa­tion is changing the rela­tion­ship between oper­ator and the service provider, as the contractor is more involved in the deci­sion-making process. “We cannot imple­ment recom­men­da­tions without commu­ni­cating with the customer on the purpose of the oper­a­tions,” says Mr Janssen. This there­fore also means providing agro­nomic advice. An essen­tial part of his job is to main­tain “a network of experts, whom I can call on with specific ques­tions.”

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In this region, largely domi­nated by live­stock, where “money is earned in the barn”, the switch to connected agri­cul­ture is most often made at the contractor’s initia­tive. For Mr Janssen, convinced of the impor­tance of this approach for the sector, it is a ques­tion of being proac­tive. “The live­stock farmers are already over­whelmed with work, and do not want to take on addi­tional loads by adopting a new tech­nology. However, they are happy when a new method opti­mises their forage produc­tion and effluent manage­ment.”

The most popular preci­sion service is the spreading of slurry. The self-propelled Vervaet Hydro Trike is equipped with a Harvest Lab 3000 sensor, whose near-infrared sensor measures the nutrient content of organic fertiliser 4000 times per second. The working speed is used to control the dose, providing the key to a possible increase in yields, and subse­quent savings in mineral fertiliser usage. “This year, we had a case where the Harvest Lab showed abnormal values, not consis­tent with the analyses carried out before­hand,” says Mr Janssen. “After discus­sion with the farmer, it turned out that the slurry had not been prop­erly mixed on farm.” This kind of adjust­ment would not have been possible without feed­back from the contractor.

Cards on the table

In the end, “the oper­a­tors see the advan­tage of spending a little more to have another degree of secu­rity in the plan­ning,” he notes. “Starting next year, we are getting ready to provide customers with precise infor­ma­tion on the amount of energy avail­able in their forage stocks. If, for example, I have sown 45ha and the energy of 40ha is suffi­cient for the oper­a­tion, I may decide to sell the excess, rather than storing it.”

In customer rela­tions, the emphasis is on trans­parency: There is no ques­tion of trying to tout a miracle recipe. “As a contractor, I find it dangerous to promise a 10, 20% yield gain. We start from the poten­tial of the soil, to repre­sent the possible levers for action, such as vari­able rate sowing, and make the customer under­stand why he can hope that the under­taken measures will bring better growth.”

Even without going so far as to predict dramatic increases in produc­tivity, saving on seeds, or other inputs, this is a way of influ­encing the margin, the useful­ness of which is obvious to the farmers, he empha­sises. “The prac­tical benefit of the service must, simply put, be well explained.” The company orga­nizes B2B evenings with up to 250 farmers every year. The working methods are presented on a large screen. These events have become a tradi­tion and have boosted the adop­tion of the methods.

A mastered tech­nique

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With the growing complexity of the new tools, deal­er­ships’ training roles have grown in recent years, points out Adeline Vacossin of the PM-Pro deal­er­ship in northern France. Recently, the deal­er­ship has been a service provider to the Cham­bers of Agri­cul­ture, within which it organ­ises educa­tional sessions on preci­sion agri­cul­ture. The content includes a refresher on guid­ance systems, and discus­sions on the imple­men­ta­tion of section control, vari­able rate appli­ca­tion, cartog­raphy, RTK (Real Time Kine­matic) guid­ance, and surveying.

Covering an area with a radius of more than 200km, PM-Pro employs seven Farm­Sight field experts, who can provide tips and tricks. “The heart of our busi­ness is to reas­sure customers that we have fully under­stood our own tools, to provide reli­able infor­ma­tion, and to assist them in these new tech­nolo­gies,” says Ms Vacossin. A rewarding mission every day. For the young woman, who came to the agri­cul­tural sector because of her passion for nature, the stake goes beyond complying with envi­ron­mental stan­dards. “These tech­nolo­gies offer an oppor­tu­nity to respond to the ecolog­ical chal­lenge, without endan­gering the viability of farms.”

As well as answering ques­tions on how to simu­late the posi­tion of the machine in a curve or prop­erly manage section control during head­land turns, Adeline Vacossin also organ­ises training on preci­sion farming.

 

Vari­able rate appli­ca­tion training

Farming in Chouilly, Nicolas Cuvil­lier (51) describes the very close working rela­tion­ship with his deal­er­ship. “The trust is high,” he testi­fies. On the 220ha which comprises the two family farms, he and his wife grow wheat, spring barley, dehy­drated alfalfa, beet­root, grain maize, and 3ha of grapevines. The latest invest­ments were a fertiliser spreader and a sprayer equipped with section control. “I was lucky enough to be able to undergo vari­able rate appli­ca­tion tech­nology training in January 2020, on the advice of my sales repre­sen­ta­tive.”

I was lucky to be able to undergo vari­able rate training.

Nicolas Cuvil­lier

The soils are extremely vari­able. “The harvester’s yield sensor shows big gaps between the top and bottom of the fields. It is not neces­sarily the bottom which is better.” Very poorly distrib­uted rain­fall in recent years has led the farmer to consider using opti­mi­sa­tion measures. So during the previous season, he started to work with satel­lite biomass maps, provided by Farm­star.

“To imple­ment vari­able rate appli­ca­tion, training is neces­sary, but it does not present any partic­ular diffi­cul­ties.” The appli­ca­tion maps arrived at the farm in RX format, so they needed to be converted for compat­i­bility with the console. In addi­tion, precise knowl­edge about the hard­ware, the type of console, and the prod­ucts and inputs being used is required. “Once this is set up and you have learned how to handle it, you no longer have any doubts,” explains Mr Cuvil­lier.

Nicolas Cuvil­lier, a producer from Chouilly (Départe­ment Marne), main­tains close busi­ness rela­tions with his dealer.

Working more cleanly

Last year the third nitrogen appli­ca­tion in wheat was deliv­ered at vari­able rates based on biomass maps. “The recom­men­da­tion showed devi­a­tions ranging from zero to 80 units. This clearly indi­cates the over-fertil­i­sa­tion levels in certain areas, and under-fertil­i­sa­tion else­where.” Wheat yielded more than 1t/ha higher in the last harvest, following favourable weather condi­tions. A good result that Mr Cuvil­lier also attrib­utes to the preci­sion of the fertiliser. “If we compare the recom­men­da­tions and the yield map we got from the combine, we can clearly see the gain in effi­ciency coming from vari­able rate appli­ca­tion.”

He concludes: “I absolutely do not regret imple­menting this tech­nology.” The oper­ator points out that dialogue with the equip­ment deal­er­ship is now more frequent and has improved. His PM-Pro sales repre­sen­ta­tive visits him every week. “Today there are special­ists at deal­er­ships that were not there before. At my deal­er­ship, there is a guid­ance systems expert, a telemetry expert, etc.” In training rooms, in the work­shop, in the store; the deal­er­ship is also a place for discussing the use of equip­ment and new tech­nolo­gies with other customers. “This is what keeps everyone moving forward in imple­menting these tech­nolo­gies.”

Better data exchange

Data compat­i­bility has been a big chal­lenge in preci­sion farming, but manu­fac­turers are imple­menting better co-ordi­na­tion. As an example, the Data­con­nect solu­tion now enables commu­ni­ca­tion between the John Deere Oper­a­tions Centre, Claas Telem­atics and 365FarmNet plat­forms, for loca­tion, machine progress, fuel, work rate, harvest logis­tics, etc. New Holland, Case or Steyr machines are also visible. Learn more about Data­Con­nect at deere.uk.