Electronic eyes for the operator

Many of the innovations at the Agritechnica 2017 awards were aimed at making the work of the machine operator easier. Joe Spencer reports on two examples.

The Pöttinger camera-assisted seedbed preparation system.
Photo: Pöttinger

Austrian company, Pöttinger, which markets its products in South Africa through Valtrac Parys, won four silver medals at Agritechnica. They included one for a camera-assisted seedbed preparation system, and one for an automatic animal detection system.

Good-quality tilth and optimal seedbed preparation are both essential for successful seed germination and growth. Ideally, the seedbed should be as coarse as possible, and as fine as necessary.

In practice, it’s difficult to select the right soil tillage intensity for each crop and the prevailing weather conditions. The main challenge is to avoid capping in silty soils.

Pöttinger’s camera-assisted seedbed preparation ensures consistent seedbed preparation and seed placement, regardless of changes in soil condition on the land.

The system measures soil surface roughness using live images from a stereo camera mounted between the power harrow and the seed drill. An ISOBUS Class III app then regulates the PTO and driving speed of the tractor accordingly.

In doing so, the unit automatically controls the tractor, enabling it to adapt to varying soil conditions. The result is an optimal seedbed across the entire land.

The system means less fatigue for the driver, as he/she does not have to keep looking back to check the condition of the seedbed and manually adjust the speed of the harrow rotors and tractor.

It also saves time and ensures smoother driving, and thus lower fuel consumption.

Yet another advantage is that the system allows for night-time operation, as there is no need to check the seedbed visually.

The system can generate a surface roughness map, which can improve decisions for subsequent working steps.

Preventing harm to animals
Wild animals are at risk when the mowing season starts. They hide in long grass and many do not run away in the face of oncoming danger.

Apart from the fact that no farmer wants to harm them, carcass parts in the forage or hay can contaminate the fodder, presenting a grave danger to livestock, as botulinum toxins can cause food poisoning, with fatal consequences.

Pöttinger’s SENSOSAFE, an infrared sensor fitted to the mower, is designed to detect animals lying in the grass in front of the cutting mechanism. When it does so, it transmits a signal to the tractor hydraulics to immediately and automatically raise the mower head.

The sensors, developed specifically for this application, provide optimal detection even in broad daylight and direct sunlight. They can differentiate between animals and other obstacles such as molehills.

Joe Spencer is the mechanisation editor of Farmer’s Weekly.