Leek farmer tests driverless tractor; sees opportunities, but prefers smaller tractors

Photos: Koos Groenewold
Photos: Koos Groenewold

Ronald Swinkels used a Massey Ferguson 7719S for a few days, which was equipped with a fully autonomous iQuus system. This means that the tractor was equipped with a safety bumper with LIDAR camera in the front and emergency stop buttons on all corners of the tractor, allowing the tractor to work safely completely autonomously, without supervision.

Ronald Swinkels has an arable farm in Meterik, the Netherlands. He used the tractor equipped with a fully autonomous iQuus system to cultivate bare soil with a cultivator. It was mainly about trying out how the system works and what the autonomous tractor can do in practice.

Used to work with GPS navigation

It requires explanation to be able to work with it for the first time, but Ronald was able to use iQuus quite quickly. “It makes a difference that I am used to working with GPS navigation”, says the Limburg vegetable grower. “That means you understand more quickly how it works.”

In the approach of GPS Solutions that develops and markets the iQuus system, you recognize its origins in fruit growing, but in Swinkels’ experience it also fits in with the way of working in vegetable growing. During planting, beds are created through which the tractor passes several times during the season. The tractor can then autonomously always precisely follow the constructed beds. Even if they deviate slightly from an original GPS pattern. If an operation is being performed for the first time or only once, it would be useful if the tractor could work autonomously from a defined AB line. That was not yet the case on the tractor that Swinkels made available, but that possibility is coming.

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Dutch farmer Ronald Swinkels is working with an autonomous tractor for the first time.
Dutch farmer Ronald Swinkels is working with an autonomous tractor for the first time.

User friendly

Swinkels works with several employees at his company and therefore believes it is important that the system should be as user-friendly as possible and operate as intuitively as possible. In vegetable cultivation, in Swinkels’ case this is mainly leeks, many operations that lend themselves to autonomy are repeated several times.

In the practice of his company, this will often be with a lighter tractor than the one he currently had at his disposal. And if no or fewer drivers are needed, this can also be several small tractors instead of one large one. What became clear to him after the first introduction is that the technology is in principle ready for practice. During a test, the tractor skidded in a wet spot and appeared to stop in time to prevent worse. Operate a tool, such as folding up the cultivator when the work is finished, was also possible completely autonomously. Operating and programming the correct routing are still points to further develop and improve.

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Martin Smits Machinery writer