Australian company MPT has designed a smart seeder that incorporates sensors to map essential soil properties like soil moisture and soil carbon. It plans to start pre-commercialisation trials soon.
MPT has already built a 12-metre broadacre seeder that incorporates moisture-sensing tynes to automatically alter sowing depth according to soil conditions using a mixture of artificial intelligence, integrated sensors and smart design.
By harnessing the power of precise soil mapping and intelligent data utilisation, the MPT Smart Seeder enables farmers to make the most of each seeding opportunity, Founder and CEO David Finlay says.
The MPT Smart Seeder should enable farmers to optimise crop yields by ensuring uniform emergence
Mr Finlay explains the technology is well suited to traditional crops such as canola and wheat, but could also reduce risks in high-value crops such as cotton and corn. With a maximum seeding depth of 200mm, the seeder would work well with certain long coleoptile crops. In modern no-till farming practices, the soil is disturbed only during the seeding stage, making it a critical moment for maximising its potential, Mr Finlay emphasises.
Utilising in-furrow technology, and real-time access to the data about moisture and carbon, the MPT Smart Seeder should enable farmers to optimise crop yields by ensuring uniform emergence. By avoiding the need to plant seeds deeper than necessary, it effectively reduces fuel consumption, leading to cost savings and minimising environmental impact. MPT says the technology delivers farmers higher yields.
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“We also worked on sensors for temperature”, Mr Finlay says. “But we haven’t seen much interest for this from farmers. So, we will now focus on moisture and carbon. We were hoping to do a summer crop with the seeder, but we had a dry winter and its looking like a dry start of spring. We are not sure if we will get into the field in the short term. The worst case scenario will be trials in April or May next year.”
MPT has done its first commercial trial with the 12-metre seeder in May this year. “We had a very good emergence during the trial, better than other crops nearby”, Mr Finlay says. “And we have learned much about our software interface and the control systems. We decided it would be a good idea to convert the seeder to an Isobus-machine, so we can integrate into the tractor a bit better. We also will send our sensors to a Sydney University in the next weeks, for performance improvement.”
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Currently, MPT is working on getting the main hardware to work properly. “We are working with a complex electro-hydraulic arrangement that allows real-time adjustment to take place”, Mr Finlay explains. “While the sensors are the key to the technology, unless we have the rest of the machine performing properly, we won’t have the value gain.” Farmers can also adjust the placement on a screen in the cab, using the real-time information.
The seeder analyses the data from the sensor instantly, using an on-board processor, that feeds information to electronically controlled smart row units. Leveraging an internal algorithm, the MPT Smart Seeder can then dynamically and automatically adjust seed placement continuously throughout the field.
By planting seeds tailored to the specific soil conditions at each location, the MPT Smart Seeder should maximise crop uniformity, resulting in higher yields and increased productivity. “A seed needs moisture to germinate”, Mr Finlay says. “When we plant a crop, we want to plant it all in dry soils – in anticipation of a rain event – or plant it into a moisture profile”
“Existing seeders are manually depth-controlled. If we have a good moisture profile on one side of the paddock, but it is two inches on the other side of the paddock, the farmer has no good tools in the cab to enable him to vary the depth-setting across the field. Usually, in that case, he will set the seeder to maximum depth everywhere. With our technology, by monitoring this in real-time, we can also adjust the depth real-time, and optimise planting.”
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Furthermore, carbon data generated during the seeding process can be exported and overlaid onto yield field maps, contributing to the farmer’s overall knowledge. This would allow for informed decision-making and continuous improvement in practices. “Measuring carbon is also a runway to us for measuring other properties, such as nitrogen or other elements, that would enable variable rate fertiliser application.”
MPT is now looking for farmers, that would like to participate in the upcoming trials. “There could be potential risks involved, such as operational issues or debugging that might have to be done”, Mr Finlay says. “But it will plug and play, and essentially operate like any other seeder on the market. We can customise row-spacings or width etcetera, based on the requirements of the customer.”