AgLeader’s CartACE turns an average vehicle driver into a skilled grain cart operator. How does it work?
A shortage of experienced machinery operators in many countries around the world is prompting farmers to turn to technology to get the job done efficiently and safely. At the same time manufacturers are increasingly coming up with new automation to fill the skills gap.
Grain carting getting more difficult
As combines grow in size, with wider and wider cutterbars, even grain carting – a job often reserved for the least proficient operator – now demands careful attention and experience. Even farms that can find grain cart drivers, realise the job is getting more difficult. Particularly when visibility is limited by high levels of dust and working at night. Long hours don’t help concentration and safety, either.
It’s not a new difficulty and it’s one that developers at Ag Leader are well aware of. Based in Ames, Iowa, in the American Heartland, it’s headquarters is surrounded by fields of soybeans and corn (maize), and the company knows its neighbouring farmers are also suffering from staff shortages.
Ag leader CartACE doesn’t require new hardware
Ag Leader’s answer is a relatively simply idea called CartACE, which was released in a beta form for harvest trials in 2019. This doesn’t require any new hardware, because its works by using the internet to link the information on existing InCommand terminals in the combine and grain cart.
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“We know the grain cart seat cannot be filled by just anyone, and it is getting harder to find experienced operators to fill critical roles in farming operations. It takes a certain level of expertise to fill this role, which we’re approaching in such a practical and economical way that we believe many of our customers could easily adopt and benefit from,” explains Joe Holoubek, Ag Leader product manager.
“We aim to turn what might be an average vehicle driver into a skilled grain cart operator through providing the right tools and assistance during high stress and high error prone harvest tasks,” he adds.
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By autosteering along a guidance path, parallel to the combine’s previous pass, Ag Leader’s CartACE system keeps the grain cart in the correct unloading position. - Photo: Ag Leader
Ag Leader Essentials licence required
CartACE requires users to have Ag Leader’s Essentials licence, which activates a range of features including file sharing, reports and cloud storage. One of the functions it offers is DisplayCast, which also has to be unlocked on each InCommand. Lastly, both vehicles must have an internet connection and a high quality GPS receiver, with both also using the same correction signal. Drift can still occur with an Egnos signal.
So, essentially, CartACE is software. It works by using DisplayCast’s ability to transfer data, in real time, between two or more of its InCommand terminals via an internet connection. While the close proximity of the two vehicles would allow a radio signal to be used, the internet set-up is already up and running on the terminals, simply requiring only an unlock on the display.
New guidance pattern called FollowPath
It’s operation is as straightforward as its set-up. Basically, the system creates a new guidance pattern, which Ag Leader calls FollowPath. To do this it uses the mapped data from the combine to make a new guidance line, which it offsets to centre the grain cart under the combine’s auger. The combine doesn’t need guidance to do this.
The grain cart tractor uses this new FollowPath guidance line to autosteer alongside the combine. As it begins harvesting, the data is synced to DisplayCast on AgFiniti and the operator selects ‘guidance’. As the grain cart enters the same field, the operator centres the cart under the unloading auger and simply presses ‘centre’ to configure the proper offset from the centre of the previous combine pass. This only needs to be done once for each crop type. The user can then engage AutoSteer on the guidance line.
Ag Leader says there is no need to manage the guidance lines – they are created automatically by the combine. The system already ‘knows’ the required offset, because this is pre-programmed by the farmer or manager. It is also possible, however, to reset the offset or fine tune if necessary.
CartACE does not remove all responsibility for steering for the operator, stresses Ag Leader. The driver must still stay alert to the presence of the combine, avoid obstacles and maintain vigilance. The system will also not steer sharp curves – with AutoSteer sounding a warning before it disengages. Autosteer also automatically stops at the end of each pass, so operators will need to take over and drive to the next bout.
System steers away stress for South African farmer
One of the first trial users of the CartACE system is Danie Bester, from Rietbult Estates near Balfour Mpumalanga in South Africa. Here he runs a farming operation known as Deepwater Trading, growing arable crops and grazing beef on a total of 1,465ha in a soybeans and corn rotation.
Every other year, due to moisture constraints, he drops the soybeans and grows sunflowers on some fields instead. “I do already use a lot of technology – yield mapping, guidance and steering, as well as planter control, application control of sprays and fertiliser using Isobus connectivity. This is all run through Ag Leader equipment and terminals with its SMS Advanced software to carry out all the data management,” he explains.
We quickly discovered one of the system’s great benefits as it overcomes worries about the grain cart being lined up with combine and concerns about the operator moving off the unloading line
With his own Ag Leader RTK GPS correction base station, InCommand 1200 and Integra terminals already in use on his equipment, Danie was a prime candidate to try out the new CartACE system.
“Yes, we do struggle to hire skilled labour, especially grain cart operators,” says Danie. “Our harvesting conditions also create a lot of dust, so that’s a big challenge. Another major issue is with operators not always keeping true to the unloading line – they can struggle to drive the correct distance from the combine, causing the auger not to be centred over the grain cart.”
Adding: “We quickly discovered one of the system’s great benefits as it overcomes worries about the grain cart being lined up with combine and concerns about the operator moving off the unloading line.”
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Danie Bester says unloading is now a much less stressful experience for both the combine and grain cart operator.
Case IH 6130 combine, five John Deere tractors and a Case IH
Rietbult Estates harvests its crops with a Case IH 6130 combine, which is accompanied by five John Deere tractors and a Case IH. “We tested the system in my JD 8300, which already has an InCommand terminal and also normally pulls the grain cart. It was so easy to use. It took my operator less than one minute to get going! The grain cart uses the logged passes of the combine to create itself a ‘guidance track’ to run along. This means it exactly follows the previous combine pass and this, of course, lines up with the rest of the field,” he explains.
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Autosteering the grain cart makes it easier to unload in dusty conditions and at night, removing the worry about spilling grain. - Photo: Danie Bester
CartACE reduced stress levels when unloading
Employing the CartACE system during harvest has really reduced the stress levels when unloading, the farmer adds. “It’s an addition that really makes harvesting and unloading more efficient. The ability for the grain cart operator to be able to track the combine on-screen makes it easier to see where the combine is working and from where to approach it. We have a lot of rolling ground, so the combine is not always visually in sight. The system also makes it easier to unload in dusty conditions and at night, without having to worry about grain spillage.”
Operators like the way they can visually monitor the operation with CartACE in action
And yes, of course, also knowing that the grain cart and header will not collide is very assuring. “It really lowers stress levels for the operator and me. Operators are much less stressed about making mistakes and feel they are more in control. They like the way they can visually monitor the operation with CartACE in action, rather than having to be constantly looking around and manually ‘aiming’, which can lead to errors,” explains Danie.
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After engaging AutoSteer, the system automatically steers the grain cart tractor on a guidance path. Operators can make fine tuning adjustments. - Photo: Danie Bester
Anything that helps reduce stress at harvest is a worthwhile investment, he feels. “Using this definitely lower stress and anything that does that is always better. Less fatigue hopefully means no accidents and being able to safely guide your grain cart without risk of hitting the header also provides some nice peace of mind,” he says.
If in the future the system, or something similar, could provide full automation for the grain cart would Danie use it? “I really hope it does move in that direction as far as possible. I personally feel that there will always have to be a human presence, but I do feel technology always increases efficiency. And that’s why I would use it, for sure,” he explains.
South African farmer Danie Bester is one of the first users of the CartACE system. He says it relieves stress on operators and improves efficiency.