December 2011 Archives
2011 was a remarkable year in the farm equipment sector, unlike any in recent memory. The number of new machines introduced to the market this year was more than impressive. John Deere held what it referred to as the largest introduction of new machinery in its 174-year history. AGCO described its new product launch as the largest in the history of the North American agricultural equipment industry.
And it wasn't just the major manufacturers that were rolling out new stuff at a breathtaking pace; it seemed nearly every company, large or small, had something new to show this year. At Agritechnica, the world's largest farm machinery show held in Hanover Germany, there were a record number of exhibitors this November, 2,748 to be exact. That meant the world's largest fairground was full to capacity to accomodate that much new iron.
Maybe I shouldn't say iron, because more than a little of what was new this year was electronic or just digital. Farming is moving into what in the 1960s would have been referred to as the space age. Maybe that description still fits. The S Series combines Deere introduced this year have more lines of software code than early versions of the space shuttle.
And robotics officially entered the picture this year. AGCO's Fendt line introduced Guide Connect, which allows an unmanned second tractor to follow along like a puppy behind one operated by a driver. John Deere's Machine Sync uses similar technology to automate on-the-go unloading from a combine. Case IH won an award at the SIMA machinery show in Paris early in the year for a similar system that isn't yet market ready. Then, there was Kinze's autonomous tractor project, which allows a tractor to pull a grain cart from combine to truck completely on its own.
Things have started moving fast with autonomous technology. And I suspect that pace will increase.
High-voltage electric drive is set to soon replace some hydraulic systems to improve efficiency. There were several machines shown at Agritechnica that demonstrated new electrical drive systems. AEF, the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation, the industry group made up of many of the engineers involved in developing those new systems, recently added high-voltage to its list of working groups; and they're now in the process of establishing standards for the implementation of market-ready, high-voltage drives.
Now that the year is coming to an end, I've tallied up the travel stats involved with attending those product launches and shows in order to bring back the information on all this new development for the pages of Grainews. Here are the numbers. I've been on 22 connecting flights to, or through, four provinces, one territory, five U.S. states and across the Atlantic to Germany.
Hopefully, all that effort helped keep you in loop with what's going on in the farm machinery world.
Thanks for following along. And if there is a topic you'd like to see addressed in the magazine, or in this blog, don't hesitate to email me with your suggestions.
All the best for 2012, and merry Christmas.
As I stood at the local card lock fuelling station recently, a sign on the pump cautioned me that it would cut out when I'd loaded 300 litres, everyone's daily quota of diesel fuel these days. A couple of weeks ago someone had crossed out the previous 500 litre amount on the sign and wrote in the new, lower limit. Sadly, these notices have been around for a while; and although the overall situation has improved, things still aren't back to normal.
Standing there it occurred to me there's a disconnect in the Canadian petroleum industry these days. While Saskatchewan farmers and truckers resigned themselves to daily fuel rationing over the past few weeks, the main topic on the news has been the Canadian government and petroleum industry expressing their joint disappointment over the failure of the Keystone XL pipeline to get U.S. approval; it would have carried billions of litres of Alberta crude to Texas refineries at a discount compared to the world price for oil.
Something is wrong with this picture. As Canadians, western farmers are co-owners of all the oil sands crude that so many want to see end up in U.S. fuel tanks, yet we currently can't fill our own. Everyone from the Prime Minister to CEOs of banks have been lamenting the pipeline delay and possible cancellation, but there's been barely a peep from them about yet another western Canada diesel fuel shortage.
Yes, yet another. The topic has been on the radar for a few years now. For example, industry insiders suggest that had the harvest season two years ago not been slowed by wet weather, there was a risk some combines could have been sidelined with dry tanks.
I know that the cause of our latest fuel shortage may not be a lack of available crude oil to refine, but the optics of the whole situation makes the industry players and the government seem as though their attention is elsewhere. What if this situation was reversed and it was U.S. farmers and truckers who were going short while oil companies talked of nothing but boosting exports.
Could you image the ruckus? The public backlash would be enormous, and politicians would be lining up to publicly jump on oil companies. Here, not so much. Our politicians seem to be staying well out of the picture, and can you blame them? We diesel fuel consumers have been politely accepting the deprivation. I'm not sure why. This recurring problem has the potential to cause some serious financial harm. In fact, it already has, especially for trucking companies.
I think it's time for the industry and our elected representatives to address the problem. If those two groups want to profit from exporting Canada's natural resources—that means cash for oil companies and gaining the reputation governments seek as economic visionaries—the least they can do is guarantee there is enough refined product to meet local needs first.