Large agricultural machinery for farms
There are areas of the world where farms are huge and require equally large farm equipment. Each year the equipment and technology that drives productivity growth in agriculture continue to evolve helping farmers feed the world.
March 27 was the last day of National Agriculture Week in the US. Designed for promoting agriculture, the companies, and the families that help produce food feeding and fueling the world.
Agriculture is an international powerhouse and economic driver around the world. Vast areas of most countries are dedicated to agriculture. It is estimated that 28% of the world’s population, some 1 billion people work in the agricultural sector in 2018. This is down from 44% in 1991 for a variety of reasons.
Reasons for continued growth in agriculture output
There are numerous reasons why farm continues to produce more products with less manpower. New technology for seeds, fertilizers, growing science are all factors but the use of farm machinery is one of the main drivers. The output grew in spite of less land and labor inputs. Capital inputs (machinery) grew substantially.
The contrast of small labor-intensive and capital-intensive.
After spending a few years working to improve labor-intensive farming in Afghanistan I was asked to go on a trip to Ukraine. One of the inputs into farming in Afghanistan was fertilizer. The only fertilizer plant in Afghanistan that converted natural gas to fertilizer was built by the Russians in the early 60s with 50s technology.
I was part of a team that set out to visit a sister plant in the Ukraine that had been updated and operating more efficiently. We flew into Donetsk in the eastern portion of the country and drove for 4 hours through the heart of Ukraine farmland to the large fertilizer plant.
What interested me as much as the huge fertilizer plant was the diversity and the size of farms we drove by on the way. Since it was late summer, many fields were in different stages of production depending on the crops. I was able to see all sorts of large equipment harvesting this year’s crop and preparing for next year.
Farming in Ukraine
70% of Ukraine’s land area is devoted to agriculture. The area is home to 30% of the world’s black soils making it an ideal location for wheat, barley, corn, sugar beet, sunflower, and soya beans. The sunflower fields were the most amazing. It is the largest grower of sunflowers producing more than 10 million tons a year. The two largest farms in Ukraine are over 600,000 hectares.
The total output of Ukraine farm goods is split between enterprises and households. The second group of 4 million households is cultivating an average of 1.23 hectares of land. The former consists of 45,000 enterprises which are the primary investors in capital-intensive equipment.
It takes huge agriculture machinery to farm large holdings effectively. The technology that helps manage the equipment continues to improve every year. Machinery used on the large farms is just that, large. The more area each can till, seed, fertilize, and harvest in each pass through the field the more efficient production becomes.
Modern farming machinery’s common denominator is efficiency.
The capital intensiveness of large crop farming requires efficient operations and little downtime. For field operations to be efficient the operator has to have the tools to work with and the comfort for continuous operation.
Tractors on farms have long replaced oxen and horse-drawn wagons and plows. Even the smallest of farms, if fuel is readily available, will have a tractor as their main machinery of choice. The size of the farm dictates the size of the tractor in many cases.
Tractors are noted for being able to use multiple accessories that transform it into all matter of uses around the farm. Large tractors have large accessories often reducing the cost of purchasing specialized equipment.
One of the largest farm tractors is Big Bud 727. It reportedly has an 1100 horsepower 16-cylinder 2-cycle engine at a cost of $300,000 dollars US. It could pull an 80-foot cultivator at 8 miles per hour covering 1.3 acres per minute! The actual width of the tractor with tires was over 25 ft.
The largest John Deere tractor, 9620R with 620 horsepower and eight tires costs a whopping $554,000 base price up to $680,000 with additional options! Its new 9RX version has quad tracks enabling it to go almost anywhere on the farm in the muddiest of conditions.
Many of the options are designed to make the operation of the equipment possible without ever leaving the comfort of the operator’s cabin. GPS systems, hydraulic positioning of the attachments, video screens, joystick controls, heating, cooling, and complete filtration from the dirt, dust, and pollen from the fields. Since most of the brands of tractors we saw were foreign I wanted to stop and ask them questions about the equipment. With a fall chill in the air, I was curious if they used PTC ceramic heating elements like the German and American brands do.
Regardless of the size of these rather expensive workhorses, there is always one larger, with more horsepowers and wheels. The flexible nature of the farm tractor will let it remain the mainstay of every farm.
Sometimes called combines which are short for combine harvester is designed for efficient harvesting of large quantities of grain. The primary job of the combine for grain is cutting, reaping, threshing, and winnowing.
Adaptations for corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, rye, barley, sorghum, flax, canola, and sunflowers make combine the choice for large harvests. Harvesters are able to cut 40-foot swaths of crops at once with grain tanks holding 485 bushels with unloading speeds of 6 bushels per second while harvesting.
The flexibility of very large tractors does become limited. Specialized machinery like harvesters brings additional capabilities and technology for specific crops and land. Referred to as harvester tractors the built-in capabilities for the specific job are different from the workhorse tractors found on most farms.
As with large tractors harvesters are designed with environmentally controlled cabins providing the operator with sightlines directly forward and down.
This enables the operator to more closely monitor the crop while using the latest technology to manage the speed and production of the machine. All in the comfort of the cabin that filters out dust, blocks the sun, stays cool, warm, and dry. A climate-controlled cabin is much better than walking behind a team of horses.
Tillage refers to the preparation of the soil by mechanical agitation. Think of the horse pulling a single plow ahead through the field turning over the soil. Modern tillage equipment is attachments pulled behind tractors. Depending on the field or previous crop the tillage equipment will either plow, disk, cultivate, condition, or finish prior to planting.
The ultimate goal of tillage is to prepare the ground for seeding/planting. Specialized attachments for different functions with some combining such as conditioning which performs multiple functions. The connections to the tractor enable a trained operator to adjust the disks and other tools from the cabin of the tractor.
Once the soil has been prepared properly a seeder is used for planting seeds! Seeders like tillage equipment come in a variety of sizes and capabilities pulled behind a tractor. The seeders “drill” a hole to the right depth and ensure it is covered after depositing the seed.
Speed and accuracy are important for yield and waste. Functions in modern seeders are controlled from the cabin via electrical-hydraulic connections.
Sprayers and Fertilizer Distributors
Another job for the universal farm tractor is spraying chemicals and fertilizers. The attachment consists of a large bin containing granular chemicals or liquid chemicals. Some of these products are broadcast from the container while others through the use of arm extensions directly applied to the crops or field.
There are special purpose vehicles just for the purpose of spraying or broadcasting chemicals but most are attached to a tractor. They have come a long way from the mechanical manure spreader towed behind the tractor or team of horses. And a lot more efficient than turning the cows loose in the field during the winter for organic farming!
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