Wil Sillen's post

Wil Sillen

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How self-propelled tractors can relieve the burden on the farmer and the soil
By: Hanah van der Korput

Rienk Landstra and Joris Hiddema are not new to the world of agricultural vehicles. Their self-propelled tractors are. With this they want to relieve the burden on the farmer and the soil.

The two gentlemen previously worked for a manufacturer of agricultural vehicles. “It felt a bit like I was part of the wrong trend,” says Landstra. “Because there is less and less labor available to drive agricultural machines on the land, the vehicles are getting bigger and heavier. That is not necessarily the right way to relieve the soil. I wanted to do it differently, and with me a few colleagues.”

Autonomous tractors
AgXeed was started in 2018. The company develops self-propelled tractors. “We just started,” says Hiddema. “We designed our tractors ourselves, from drawing to programming.” That's a lot of work, he admits. Nevertheless, the first prototype drove its first round independently after a year and a half. “We then tested a lot and made the necessary adjustments. We could start selling the robots in 2022,” adds Landstra.

AgXeed's self-propelled tractors are lightweight, which means less stress on the soil. Due to the high pressure of the current equipment, the soil is compressed, which can cause soil compaction. The soil receives less oxygen, soil life decreases, crops absorb less nutrients and rainwater is poorly drained. “The soil can still recover to a certain extent,” says Landstra. “But the more often and the more intensively the land use, the more difficult that becomes.”

Soil compaction reduces the yield and quality of crops. “Unhealthy soil, for example, needs more chemicals and fertilizers to perform. That way you end up in a downward spiral,” says Landstra.
Because the tractors drive independently on the land, the farmer can save a lot of time. According to Hiddema, the number of working hours on the tractor will be reduced by about 50 to 90 percent. “Before the robot can get to work, we measure the boundaries of the plot once,” says Hiddema. “Trees and other objects on the land are also measured so that the tractor can work around them.” Of course, unknown obstacles can also appear on land: think of birds and people. This spot the tractor with sound sensors and laser lights. First the robot slows down, if necessary it comes to a stop.

The agricultural vehicles can be used day and night. In practice, this sometimes takes some getting used to, Landstra sees. He tells about a farmer who turns on the machine late in the evening so that work can continue into the night. “He programmed the robot at the same speed at which he himself went across the field with the tractor. The robot was ready within two hours and then stood still for hours. Later came the insight that it is better to set the speed much lower. The work is then done more neatly and at a much lower fuel consumption. The working process with a robot is therefore slightly different.”
In addition to autonomous tractors, AgXeed has also developed software. This allows farmers to make field plans, among other things. Hiddema: “This is happening online. The farmer draws up a route plan, which is saved and sent to the robot at the touch of a button. Then it gets to work.”

While performing their task, the self-propelled robots register everything on the land. “This makes it possible to measure more and more often. If necessary, timely action can be taken on the basis of all available data. Farmers can also view their work processes. That makes it easier to determine which conditions are favorable or disadvantageous in the cultivation process,” says Hiddema.

Landstra and Hiddema are convinced that their robots can contribute to the transition from traditional to more natural agriculture. Hiddema: “Some farmers do want to grow organically, but that is still quite a challenge. Biological agents are better for the soil, but also less powerful. This means that they have to be used more often and therefore have to go into the field more often. The manpower to go into the field and treat a small piece of land is simply not there. When you can send a tractor on its own, it is suddenly possible.”

Continue to grow
There are now three types of AgXeed tractors on the road in the Netherlands, France, Australia and Canada. In order to continue to grow, AgXeed participated in Invest-NL's Fastlane program. Young companies receive guidance and coaching from experts to scale up. The entrepreneurs want to expand to help even more farms. “Customers are very enthusiastic about our robots. And in addition to the farmer, we also relieve the soil. We want to make a positive impact in several ways,” says Landstra.
  • lee colleton

    1 w

    Less likely to see such a thing blocking the traffic on French streets and I'm not sure that is a good change.

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