26 February 1999

Compatibility is key to flexible mix-and-match

By Peter Hill

FARMER fears that precision farming electronics lack enough compatibility to give them a free choice of systems and equipment are being addressed by manufacturers.

The evidence is in the rising number of individual implement controllers that can be used with the main data processing instruments to enable variable-rate input applications. That is giving fertiliser spreader users, for example, more opportunities to link up with tractor monitors such as AGCOs Fieldstar, the Claas AgroCom Terminal and RDS Hermes/Apollo combination.

"There is a long way to go yet," says Mark Moore, AGCOs European precision farming specialist. "But we are getting there. A distinct spirit of co-operation between tractor, combine and implement makers has developed, with a common aim of ensuring the flexibility and versatility of precision farming equipment."

The establishment of some industry standardisation on electronics, software languages, and seemingly such simple matters as cable couplings, is helping the process.

The German standard DIN9684, for example, defines the means by which implement electronics can communicate with tractor systems. All the main makers assemble their tractors with a built-in digital data highway (CAN-Bus) that enables hydraulic, pto, transmission and engine functions to be monitored and controlled electronically.

These may differ in detail. But the DIN standard establishes a common means by which an implement controller can tap-in to relevant information. So, for example, instead of having a separate ground speed sensor, an implement controller operating a fertiliser spreader or sprayer can use data from the tractors radar system.

Companies such as Amazone, Lely and Bogballe (whose spreaders are sold in Britain under the KRM label) are understood to be already geared up to using this facility, with commercial products either available or near introduction.

A less formal standard, ADIS (Agricultural Data Interchange Syntax), has been agreed by a number of manufacturers to cover communications between different electronic instruments.

"There will still be differences and a need for modifications when instruments are connected for the first time," says Rene Koerhuis of Vicon. "But often this is just a matter of changing a few characters in the software, perhaps a few hours work, to get different instruments communicating correctly."

As the pioneer system in European precision farming, AGCOs Fieldstar, available for Massey Ferguson and Fendt combines and tractors, has the largest number of compatible partner systems.

Fertiliser spreader controllers are a good example. Fieldstar can be used to send variable application rate data to controllers on Amazone, KRM-Bogballe, KRM-Bredal, Kuhn, Sulky and Vicon spreaders.

Claas is making progress with its AgroCom Terminal, having compatibility for Amazone, KRM-Bogballe, KRM-Bredal and Kuhn spreaders, others planned.

Similarly, most of these spreaders, plus Transpread belt-feed machines, can be used with RDS Hermes/ Jupiter data processing outfits, as well as the firms newly developed Pro Series 8000 combination monitor. The exception is Kuhn, which uses LH Agro-sourced controllers.

LH Agro and RDS Technology are said to be talking about developing an interface between their systems.

In the meantime, the Danish companys LH 5000 monitor (which is compatible with Fieldstar) and its DataLink processor can be operated in partnership with KRM-Bogballe spreaders as well as the Kuhn models.

Links with the US-sourced Raven AMS processor/monitor are not yet as well developed but compatibility has been demonstrated with KRM-Bogballe and KRM-Bredal spreaders, and a complete Raven system is offered with the Horstine Farmery Cascade pneumatic broadcaster.

Soil sampling/fertiliser application firm SOYL has done its groundwork in developing software for its OptiBox data processor. Consequently that can be used with Amazone, Raven, KRM-Bogballe, KRM-Bredal, Kuhn, Sulky and Vicon spreader controllers.

Also joining the fray is the Same Deutz-Fahr group. It already has a number of Terminal Control System monitors on UK combines as part of a test programme before full commercial launch. &#42

US systems position more complicated

The position with some US-developed precision farming systems may be more complex, as they have been produced in a market where farmers often buy almost all their machinery from one manufacturer rather than several.

Both Case and John Deere have yield/moisture mapping systems commercially available in Europe – as part of their respective Advanced Farming System and GreenStar precision farming initiatives. But they have yet to make any firm pronouncements on tractor monitors for operating or providing input data for operating implements. These are being used in North America but, for the time being, with implements of their own brand only.