Notice the empty tractor cab in this photo taken during a demonstration of the Raven OMNiDRIVE autonomous grain cart system.

Update on automating the farm in Ohio

By John Fulton, Elizabeth Hawkins, Amanda Douridas, Ken Ford and Amanda Bennett

Autonomous farm equipment was a hot topic this past year here in Ohio and continues to be gaining some interest from farmers going into 2023.  One of the top reasons adoption of autonomous technology is being considered by farmers and even Ohio retailers has been the challenges around labor.  Labor shortages, along with retirements, leave a gap for how to complete tasks and field operations in a timely and efficient manner.  

While there has been plenty of farm press the last couple of years on farm equipment autonomy, there remains limited commercially available options here in the U.S. That may change soon as OEMs and agriculture technology companies are likely to provide commercial options to Ohio farmers within the next two to four years.  Drones are a step into autonomy with use in 2022 for scouting, spraying, and applying cover crops within Ohio. These drones are required by law to be under surveillance by a pilot during operation; however, they fly autonomously with successful flight operation without human invention.  Robotic milkers have been installed at several Ohio dairies within the Ohio livestock sector.  Just recently, the U.S. start-up company Sabanto, out of Iowa, released an autonomous kit for the Kubota M5 tractors.

Aspects of farm autonomy that become important include rules and regulations, rural broadband coverage, and finding trust by users and communities for using autonomous farm machinery here in Ohio.  Rules and regulations become important for both autonomous ground machines but also the 400-feet or less airspace where drones are allowed to fly. Certificates and licenses may be required depending upon the field operation such as applying pesticides with a drone. For autonomous farm machinery, one cannot move these down an Ohio thoroughfare autonomously. There must be person driving or the equipment needs to be loaded onto a trailer for transportation. Therefore, logistics becomes an important aspect to making autonomous machines successful and economical on farms.  Further, autonomous machines require internet connection throughout a field operation or, at minimum, connection to start and end a job. While Ohio has decent cellular coverage, the pandemic exposed the internet connectivity challenges in rural areas of Ohio. Current broadband initiatives within Ohio will be critical to ensure rural communities have internet connectivity for education, emergency response, and also agriculture so farmers and others providing services to farmers can take advantage of autonomous technology as it comes available and makes sense for adoption.

To help outline the current state of autonomy in Ohio, the Ohio State Digital Agriculture team organized three webinars as part of their Precision University series focused on “Autonomy on the Farm.”  While attendees could participate live in these webinars, they were recorded and can be viewed on the Ohio State Precision Ag YouTube page (@ohiostateprecisionag9203). The information shared by panelists and presenters provided an excellent overview of various aspects of making autonomous farm machinery available and successfully implemented on Ohio Farms. If interested in autonomy, we encourage you to view these recorded webinars.

  1. Regulations for Autonomous Equipment – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAbpli9JgcI&t=549s
    1. Hear from Nick Hegemier (Managing Director, Infrastructure DriveOhio) and John Welsh (Aviation Safety Inspector, Airworthiness, Federal Aviation Administration / FAA) as they discuss the rules and regulations related to the adoption of autonomous equipment on farms in Ohio.
  2. Automation on the Farm – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHd-e94DX_M&t=3105s
    1. Listen as farmers Charlie Troxell and Luke Harbage from South Charleston discuss with Dr. John Fulton from Ohio State University where autonomy could fit into their row crop operations and their interest in adopting this technology.
  3. Ohio Rural Broadband Initiative – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hW2wdsQNm8
    1. This webinar features Jonathan Spendlove (John Deere), Dr. Scott Shearer (OSU), Matt Aultman (Darke County Commissioner), and Steven Strickland (Director, Partnerships and Channels, Ericsson Inc.) discussing the needs and challenges related to connectivity and rural broadband access in Ohio.

Keep up with the latest on autonomy and other precision ag topics by following out social media using @OhioStatePA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or subscribe to our quarterly newsletter, Digital Ag Download (go.osu.edu/DigitalAgDownload).

Dr. John Fulton is a Professor in the Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering Department at Ohio State University and can be reached at fulton.20@osu.edu. Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins is a Field Specialist for Ohio State University Extension and can be reached at hawkins.301@osu.edu. Amanda Douridas, Ken Ford, and Amanda Bennett are ANR Educators for Ohio State University Extension.

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