For the first time, Precision Makers has fitted its X-pert package – more commonly used on autonomous Fendt narrow-track tractors – to a John Deere 8R.
This is the first time that Precision Makers has installed the kit on a tractor of this size in Europe. The company, which is based in the Netherlands, has already successfully fitted the package to a number of Fendt narrow-track tractors, as well as an Australian Fendt 936 with an engine power of over 350 bhp.
The kit is now ready to deploy on John Deere 8R AutoPowr tractors. Comprised of a touch screen, software package and all the required sensors, the X-Pert package comes with a price tag of around € 45,000 to € 55,000. The software controls not only the steering, but also all of the other functions of the tractor, including the lifting mechanism and power take-off. Tractors fitted with this package retain full original compatibility: turn off the screen and the tractor transforms back into a non-autonomous, standard 8R.
The John Deere tractor relies on track planning technology. With this system, the driver records the boundaries of a plot of land by driving around it, then inputs the working width on the screen. The software then calculates the optimum driving routes. If there is sufficient space in the headland, the 8R turns around; if not, it executes a 3-point turn or skips a pass. Precision Makers mounted a sensor on the front of the tractor to detect obstacles and stop the tractor if necessary.
The first autonomous 8R is now in use on an arable farm in Denmark. The tractor will be deployed for repetitive tasks such as disc harrowing and sowing. A second autonomous John Deere 8R is set to be delivered to a customer in the south of France before the end of 2018, and a third will be making its way to Australia. According to the director of Precision Makers, Allard Martinet, these recent developments are just the start of a major upturn in sales for X-Pert packages on large agricultural tractors.
The Australian market, where many farmers struggle to recruit skilled tractor operators, is expected to be the main force driving this growth. The Dutch company previously attempted to break into the market with a kit designed solely for large Fendt tractors, which are few and far between in Australia; the John Deere 8R, on the other hand, is a far more common sight on farms in that country.
Allard Martinet believes that the kit has good prospects on the European market too – particularly in larger companies, where the tractor generally changes implements less frequently. The challenge in this market is finding implements that monitor results and track quality. With this in mind, Precision Makers has become a member of the Tractor Implement Management (TIM) working group, part of the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF), which focuses on implements that control the tractor.