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Autonomous seeder and planter projects

Self-propelled seeders and planters have proven to be a true rarity in the past. Can autonomy shine a different light on them?

With tractors being powerful enough and versatile as well, self-propelled seeders and planters haven’t really been able to break through like self-propelled sprayers have for instance. The versatility of a machine dedicated to seeding and/or planting just isn’t as high in many cases.

It probably also has to do with the enormous size of some of the current day seeding combinations and with the necessary soil cultivation and seed bed preparation, and the power and traction required.

Factory made self-propelled seeders are a rarity. Lemken developed its self-propelled power harrow drill combination prototype called Brillant, in 2003 based on a TerraGator traction unit. It never made it into production. If you go online, you’ll find various creations from creative entrepreneurs and engineers such as the Vervaet self-propelled pea seeder from Sas Cousin Agricole in the North of France, a Zetor Forterra trike from Dutch contractor Deelen and the Lite Trac SS2400 potato planter built by Dutch firm Wijnen Machines.

Can autonomy shine a different light on self-propelled seeders and planters?

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Various creative entrepreneurs and engineers such as Sas Cousin Agricole from the North of France, built their own self-propelled seeders like this Vervaet pea seeder. - Photo: Sas Cousin Agricole
Various creative entrepreneurs and engineers such as Sas Cousin Agricole from the North of France, built their own self-propelled seeders like this Vervaet pea seeder. - Photo: Sas Cousin Agricole

Long term Argentinian project

An interesting idea comes from Argentinian engineer Germán Villar. In 2007, during his industrial designer thesis, the idea arose to combine a tractor and planter into one machine, the AutoSatum. The tracked four ‘wheel’ steered machine with 10 wide drill is to be powered fully electric with 350 to 400 hp. The weight of the batteries is to provide sufficient downforce on the seeder elements and Villar believes that AutoSatum is a competitive machine similar in value to the sum of a tractor and drill.

He recently said to Future Farming that they have advanced in the basic engineering of AutoSatum and are in the final stage of it. Interested farmers still have to wait a bit as the project it to result in the first machines in 2030. Will it still need an operator by then or will it be autonomous right from the start?

Since according to a recent report from Fact.MR, the global autonomous farm equipment market is projected to be US$ 150 bn by 2031. Fact.MR says that autonomous tractors will be highly demanded due to their advantageous features, such as automatic planting with good accuracy and precise and reliable data collection regarding the condition of the soil and planted crops.

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In the eighties, Horsch developed this Terra-Trac three-wheel carrier vehicle. The development and marketing of it was stopped in 2004. - Photo: Horsch
In the eighties, Horsch developed this Terra-Trac three-wheel carrier vehicle. The development and marketing of it was stopped in 2004. - Photo: Horsch

Horsch and John Deere

Ideas along the same line of thought – combining a traction unit and an implement or machine – come from John Deere with its autonomous Joker that featured the cover of Future Farming magazine in 2019 and, more recently the Horsch autonomous agricultural carrier.

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John Deere states that the Joker was and will be a concept study, but Horsch plans to do field trials with the carrier this year. Alike the AutoSatum and the Joker, the Horsch prototype is also equipped with tracks on the front (axle). It isn’t the first Horsch self-propelled drill, as in the eighties the company developed the Terra-Trac three-wheel carrier vehicle based on the tractor chassis of an American manufacturer. The development and marketing of the Terra-Trac was stopped in 2004. Official details of Horsch’s development and its technology partner haven’t been revealed yet.

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Agco stated that these Xaver robots will not be launched on the market in their current design. The company rather thinks that the Xaver will be used for hoeing or spot spray crop protection. - Photo: Jacco van Erkelens
Agco stated that these Xaver robots will not be launched on the market in their current design. The company rather thinks that the Xaver will be used for hoeing or spot spray crop protection. - Photo: Jacco van Erkelens

Robot tractors with stock drills

Horsch says its autonomous agricultural carrier vehicle is not to reduce the effectiveness of seeding and the company also says it dismisses the use of a swarm of small robots as being impractical in terms of supply logistics and costly in terms of maintenance complexity.

Similar ideas come from various manufacturers of commercially available field robots and autonomous tool carriers such as the AgroIntelli Robotti, AgXeed AgBot, Elatec E-Tract, FarmDroid FD20, Raven Dot and SwarmFarm SwarmBot, autonomous tractors, Sabanto and a number of field robot concepts. Other initiatives include the Fendt Xaver, the Challenge Centéol/CEOL robot planter from Kuhn and French start-up AgreenCulture and a fully robotic maize planter from Dawn Equipment.

Agco already stated that the Xaver robots will not be launched on the market in its current design. Fendt’s project lead robotics Johannes Utz rather thinks that the Xaver will be used for hoeing or spot spray crop protection, because sowing will probably not be cheaper than the current € 45 per ha.

Are you also working on autonomous seeders or planters? Let us know!

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