How Crop Harvesting Is Going Digital with Precision Agriculture and Why It Must

The United Nations has drawn attention to the decline of soil biodiversity and productivity. With resources becoming scarce and the threat of food shortage looming globally, one might be tempted to feel it's time to give agriculture a new look rather than tighten the belt even further. Amidst these challenges lies a beacon of hope: precision agriculture, emerging as a productive and sustainable solution for the dilemma. 

Precision agriculture, empowered by cutting-edge technologies and data-driven insights, makes it less daunting for many farmers to oversee all the farming operations, so they don't have to burn the wick at both ends especially when they struggle to stay on top of a heavy workload with little labor force in a large-scale farm. In this blog, we will explore how precision agriculture technology can make efficient harvesting possible. 

Path Planning Comes First for Efficient Harvesting

Crops, including most fruits and vegetables, are traditionally harvested by hand. Without a doubt, harvest is a very busy season for farmers. With ripening crops ready to reap and pack and only a short time available to do the work, there can be lots of additional people and machinery in the field. Yet, traditional human picking is too slow and costly, putting the fruits at risk of being left to rot in the fields. Although a harvester with manual steering can help to some extent, it doesn't completely solve the problems and there is still room for improvement. 

That's where precision agriculture comes in and has gained more popularity in recent years. Before harvesting, it's vital to create an optimal path map for the process. With the help of GNSS & RTK technology, the boundaries of the farmland and the location of a harvester can be positioned in real time with accuracy down to the centimeter. Based on the mapped-out boundaries and terrain conditions, an optimal path map can be planned by using technologies such as GPS and PPP, helping the harvester find its way through the fields with minimal assistance from human operators. 

Harvester working according to path planning with the help of GNSS&RTK

When having an autosteering system installed in a cab, path planning becomes a piece of cake for farmers as the system can help them with lots of guidance lines such as straight lines and curves. Plus, with laser sensing, object recognition, and terrain compensation technologies, harvesters are guided smoothly even on rugged terrain and avoid obstacles such as rocks and debris along the preset path. This brings greater flexibility in the harvesting and ensures no missed areas, whether fruits low- or high-hanging can be grabbed with adjustable height and less possible damage. 

Another great part of the autosteering system is its ability to integrate with advanced software like Farm Management System (FMS), a unified and central hub for data coming from various agricultural operations, or to connect with other auto steering systems simply via ISOBUS harnesses or USB ports. This allows seamless data transferring and sharing for informed decision-making, enabling multiple harvesters to work in unison in separate planned paths across different plots. 

Multiple functions of the FJD Farm Management System

Smart Monitoring Can't Be Overlooked

In precision agriculture, it is essential to monitor the entire process from planting to growing to harvesting. This allows farmers to make an appropriate harvesting schedule based on the crop ripening process—a critical aspect ensuring fresh and healthy produce for customers. For harvesting activities, there are some smart monitoring systems available on the market, and a few of them are embedded with versatile sensors and cameras.

A smart monitoring system offers visualized data for more precise management. Among its advantages is that the status of various components and parts of the harvester can be observed timely, enabling farmers to keep track of what is happening around their harvesters, such as temperature and oil pressure of the engine, the rotational speed of the cutting table, and the wear level of the blades. Once an abnormality is detected, the system issues an alarm and automatically stops the working harvester to avoid further damage. 

The other major benefit is the dynamic recording and monitoring of crop harvesting. In addition to precisely counting or weighing the number of harvested crops, the monitoring system offers other statistics such as the average fruit count per plant, the proportion of crops picked, distance traveled, fuel consumption, and the time required to finish the harvest. This information is crucial for farmers to evaluate crop production and determine any necessary adjustments to their planting strategy for the upcoming cycles. 

The Quest for Performance Optimization Never Stops

There are some concept-proof smart systems to optimize harvesters in the industry, and they are typically constructed around sensors and image recognition technology to perceive the environment around them and make adaptions. Such a smart system facilitates a harvester to work smoothly without constant human guidance, for example, measuring a plant's height and position to automatically adjust the height and rotational speed of the blade. This eliminates the possibility of cutting the ground or missing the plant.

The smart system can also analyze the travel path and working performance of the harvester to minimize unnecessary travel distance and empty running, giving farmers greater control over their fuel consumption. Furthermore, it can evaluate how the equipment works by metrics like vibration and temperature to detect potential failures and maintenance needs, ensuring that the harvester is always in perfect condition to deliver high performance.

Among the above automation, navigation, and smart control technologies, some are well-developed and applied widely to change the way farmers harvest crops, while others are still in the concept validation stage. Even so, these technologies offer a glimpse into what's feasible and possible in today’s farming practices and they are definitely changing people's perception of modernized agriculture. Precision agriculture technology—an integral part of this great digital transformation—promises to modernize traditional harvesting with an infusion of digital intelligence that helps food growers achieve a more efficient and bountiful harvest.

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