Cycles of relentless drought and intense flooding mark the future of agriculture.
“If ever there was a year where you had to say, ‘Is this real?’ this is the year,” says Eric Hansotia, President and CEO of AGCO. “I’m concerned that these types of weather events will be a part of agriculture, more frequently and more severely than in the past. so having more risk, more volatility, more things to manage.”
Atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are among the main contributors to climate change, according to the USDA. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Lab reported global average levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide at an all-time high of 414.72 parts per million in 2021.
That’s nearly 100 ppm more than when NOAA started recording in 1963. Nitrous oxide contributes less to global GHGs than carbon dioxide, but it’s 300 times more potent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA).
Soil carbon sequestration is getting a lot of attention in the climate change debate, but machinery manufacturers are also tackling sustainable agriculture with reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the machinery level.
Among the main drivers for reducing GHG emissions are EPA regulations. Currently, the EPA regulates emissions by requiring Tier 4 Final engines for diesel-powered off-road vehicles rated between 174 and 750 hp. engines.
Case IH was able to meet EPA regulations and also increase oil change intervals from 500 to 600 hours with its Tier 4 engines, says Mitch Kaiser, marketing manager for Steiger tractors at Case IH. More powerful tractors with Tier 4 engines can also pull larger implements that cover more acres per hour, reducing fuel consumption to 1.5 gallons per acre.
“We also encourage no-till planting with our planters and we practice residue management to keep as much organic matter in the soil as possible and leave some of the residue on top,” says Kaiser.
Some manufacturers are harnessing sustainability through precision agriculture. AGCO’s targeted spraying will use artificial intelligence-based vision systems to tell the difference between crops and weeds, by just spraying the weed with herbicide, says Eric Hansotia, president and CEO of AGCO. Targeting only the weed reduces the amount of chemical applied. Targeting only the weed reduces the amount of chemicals applied, which in turn reduces the chemicals in the soil.
“In our precision agriculture business, all of these applications and automation to use fewer inputs also mean sustainability and less waste,” says Hansotia.
See and Spray John Deere The system works similarly, reducing herbicide use by up to 77% while knocking out 98% of weeds in the field, according to the company’s 2021 sustainability report.
These changes to sustainability come at a cost, and manufacturers are aware that many growers may be deprived of the latest innovations.
AGCO is solving this problem by offering retrofit solutions through Precision Planting, says Louisa Parker-Smith, director of global sustainability at AGCO. The FurrowJet, for example, is a planter-mounted device which applies phosphorus just below the seed in the furrow rather than spraying the entire field, minimizing runoff and increasing input efficiency.
Deere has been offering performance upgrades for seeders since 2005 and sprayers until 2014, according to its sustainability report. Kits for older model years and additional equipment types are under development. This offering encourages sustainability through practice, as well as reducing the waste created by discarding obsolete equipment.
AGCO has developed a Global Climate Risk Assessment, looking at two extreme future scenarios for climate change.
“One is a world in which we are somehow failing to curb the worst impacts of climate change, and global temperatures continue to rise dramatically,” Parker-Smith says. “The other extreme is that we see governments and international communities coming together, all leveraging all the tools they have in their toolbox to accelerate a rapid low-carbon transition. At the moment, we are somewhere in the environment.
Citing fossil fuels as one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, California regulations will ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and light trucks by the end of 2035, with big diesel rigs able to follow suit by 2040. the next important step in accelerating to a zero-emissions transportation system,” the California Air Resources Board proposal states.
Case IH and New Holland’s shared engineering and development teams have worked to preemptively meet standards such as this.
“Our Farmall C tractor has a Stage V engine, so we’re already looking at that for a number of smaller tractors,” says Kaiser. “We’re certainly looking at electric drives on the smaller ones, methane, hydrogen – anything that can reduce the carbon footprint and use naturally produced regenerative resources.”
AGCO has a similar line of alternatively powered vehicles in the works, with the Fendt e100 all-electric commercial launch planned before 2025. Battery technology is still being researched; the cost, size, weight, charging times and power limitations of the battery currently present a challenge.
“Beyond 150 hp. we will absolutely need alternative technologies,” says Parker-Smith. “Hydrogen and biomethane are more likely to be the answer for big machines.”
New Holland is working towards a carbon neutral or even negative future with the T6 Methane Power tractor Expected to hit the mass market in 2023. This tractor closes the loop of energy production and use, turning livestock bio-waste into fuel.
Mark Lowery, commercial marketing manager for New Holland, said farmers in states like California with access to infrastructure that supports methane fuel, such as digesters, are interested, but others wait to see the commercial availability of fuel before jumping on board.
Accessibility to fuels is not the only infrastructure necessary for sustainable agriculture. Precision agriculture is increasingly dependent on broadband connections, which can be scarce in rural areas.
ConectarAGRO is an industrial consortium bringing together AGCO, Bayer, CNH Industrial, Jacto, Nokia, Solinftec, TIM and Trimble to bring connectivity to Brazilian farmers. Parker-Smith says this type of partnership can also apply to the future of renewable fuel accessibility.
“This is where the industry, even competitors, come together to address these challenges as an industry,” Parker-Smith says. “I think for decarbonization it’s exactly the same. We’re going to need a value chain approach where each partner has to come with their piece of the puzzle to make it all work.