Farm machinery in Western Australia will continue to get both bigger and smaller as efficiency drives innovation in agriculture. It is no secret that for the past decade Aussie farms have been getting bigger and so has farm machinery. Eighteen-metre header fronts and 27-metre seeding bars are no longer uncommon in Western Australia, with producers choosing to rip out fences and crop boundary to boundary. Research engineer for Kondinin group, Ben White, routinely tests new gadgets that come onto the farming market and said the future of farm machinery is very exciting. He said that with things like UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or drones), people are talking about a lot at crop updates and just a general efficiency drive.
While controlled traffic farming and robotics may be pushing future machinery smaller, the common mentality out in paddocks now is "bigger is better". Pete McCann, from machinery manufacturer Case IH, said that means their immediate focus is on increasing horsepower, to tow wider implements. But, he agrees that ultimately, efficiency is the ruler. "There will be product progression with higher horsepower, but still trying to keep that efficiency, or use that horsepower to 110 per cent of its ability, instead of kind of pushing it out of the exhaust and while you're doing that you're obviously pushing out dollars as well," he said. He expects that the growers will go wider with their implementation when they see a move towards more efficient transmissions, a move away from their older power shift side of it, again to keep efficiencies up especially because fuel isn’t going to go down. According to him, the farmers will surely embrace autonomously, as Australia is a long way down the track from other countries.
Robots are already infiltrating the agricultural sector with auto steer and weed seeker systems drawing on advanced technology and knowledge. Mark Calleija, Systems Engineer at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, said robotics is a very broad term and means different things to different people. "At the moment we already have manned systems with an element of robotics and autonomy built into them, now what we are seeing is unmanned vehicles coming into the scene," he said. "What you are not going to see is a humanoid robot out in the field, what you will see is a task specific engineered solution out there, it really depends on what it is trying to do." Mr Calleijai has been working on a prototype called the ladybird which includes a robotic arm to manually remove weeds. Mechanical weeding is the primary focus at the moment but it has been proven that significant reduction of herbicide use can be done by precision spot spraying.