The second year of the Hands Free Hectare research project is under way, with the first attempt at a winter cereal showing good emergence after late drilling.
This is a return to the same field that drew widespread attention after the team, based at Harper Adams University, grew and harvested a crop of spring barley without entering the field.
See also: 20 key farming influencers for 2018
Tricky weather in the autumn pushed back completion of winter wheat drilling a month later than intended, with the autonomous drill getting all the crop in the ground by 17 November.
A cash injection from the AHDB, alongside continued support from industry sponsors, ensures the research is able to continue, and the first progress in the second season is a software update for the driverless tractor.
Modifications that had already been applied to the combine at harvest time to enable it to cut in a straight line were transferred over to the tractor, explained Harper Adams University’s mechatronics researcher Jonathan Gill, who has also been nominated as one of Farmers Weekly’s 20 key farming influencers for 2018.
This is the first step towards the main goal of this year’s project, which is to get closer to a commercial-level yield, said Harper Adams engineering lecturer and project lead Kit Franklin.
Take a look at the first drone footage of this season’s crop.
“We had to abandon our first attempt to drill this season’s crop because it was raining quite heavily and the tractor was starting to slip around and lose its straight lines,” Mr Franklin explained.
“When we drilled our spring barley earlier [in 2017] the tractor was a bit wavy and so were the drill lines.
“We’ve had six months to develop the system and we’ve seen improvements that will up field coverage and, ultimately, yield. The tractor was still a bit wayward when turning back into the field, but once it’s on the line it was really straight, with pass-to-pass cover greatly improved.”
Watch the video of the harvest from last season’s crop again:
The dates so far
- 18 October Field harrowed
- 1 November Pre-drilling application of glyphosate
- 7 November Drilling kicks off, but is called off after just 25% of the field is completed due to wet conditions
- 17 November Drilling completed
- 4 January Drone inspection of emergence