On-farm soybean field trials using small, light-weight, autonomous planters
Sustainable Production
DiseaseField management Pest
Lead Principal Investigator:
David Krog, Salin 247
Co-Principal Investigators:
Project Code:
Contributing Organization (Checkoff):
Leveraged Funding (Non-Checkoff):
We are also using Salin 247 equity investment funding for this project
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Institution Funded:
Brief Project Summary:
This research project aims to test, evaluate, and demonstrate the feasibility and profitability of using small, light-weight, autonomous, electric-powered machines to grow soybeans in Iowa. Trials conduct on-farm evaluations of selected soybean production practices, such as row width, seed populations, planting speed and residue management alternatives. Emphasis is on evaluating these practices in no-till fields. Efforts will demonstrate planting with an autonomous planter, calculate key performance indicators for that machine and share the results.
Key Beneficiaries:
#agronomists, #equipment companies, #Extension agents, #farmers, #NGOs
Unique Keywords:
# electric, #agronomy, #autonomous, #autonomous equipment, #baling, #corn residue, #electric machines, #light weight , #on-farm trials, #planter , #planting, #residue collection
Information And Results
Project Summary

This Year 2 research will focus on conducting on-farm evaluations of selected soybean production practices. Potential practices to evaluate include row width, seed populations, planting speed, and residue management alternatives. Emphasis will be on evaluating these practices in no-till fields. The set of practices to evaluate is contingent on approval by the ISA Research Center for Farm Innovation (RCFI).

Project Objectives

(1) Design on-farm trials using a Salin 247 planter with alternative configurations (e.g., row widths, planting speed, etc.)
(2) Collect on-farm field trial data on selected planting practices using the Salin 247 small, light-weight planters
(3) Communicate 2023 project KPIs along with participating growers’ feedback with Iowa soybean growers

Project Deliverables

The project deliverable will include a document reporting the on-farm trial performance metrics and well as discussing learnings from the on-farm trial project. In addition, we will hold at least one field day during the summer of 2023, and we plan to post project progress information on selected social media.

Progress Of Work

The focus of 2023 project work to-date has been on (1) design changes (mechanical and software) to the Salin 247 autonomous planter based on experience and feedback from our 2022 project and (2) on-farm trial (OFT) planning.

Design changes include (1) changing from tracks to wheels, (2) changing gear boxes, (3) increasing the capacity of the cooling system, (3) adding cameras with obstacle detection, (4) adding lighting for night operation, (5) developing remote access to the Precision Planting 20/20 monitor, (6) implementing a new navigation algorithm, (7) implementing a new turning algorithm, and (8) creating a new control and monitoring system.

The planning activities has focused on (1) defining the scope and focus of the trials, (2) creating a basic field design for the plots, (3) recruiting growers to participate in the OFT, (3) develop a grower protocol, (4) scheduling the 10 trials, and (5) beginning the process of communicating with participating growers.

It was decided to focus the OFT on evaluating alternative soybean planting populations. Four populations (80K, 110K, 140K, and 170K seeds/acre) with four replications will be planted in each of 10 fields in central Iowa. As of March 30, eight of the 10 growers have been recruited with the expectation that two more will be added in the next couple of days. Salin 247 will be contacting the growers starting next week with the expectation that planting will begin as soon as conditions are good to plant.

A wide variety of data will be collected while planting including data on a variety of planter performance variables, planting conditions data, navigation performance, energy use, and soil compaction impact.

If the weather cooperates, we may be planting in the next week or so.

View uploaded report PDF file

Final Project Results

This final project report covers the status of the project through October 5, 2023. The focus of this report is on planting-related activities and results since participating on-farm trial fields are just now being harvested and yield monitor data has not yet been collected from growers. Salin 247 will prepare another report and will be prepared to present results of the seed population part of the project later in the fall.

A key objective of this project was to demonstrate and evaluate the use of small, light-weight, autonomous farm machinery in conducting on-farm soybean trials. The attached final report focuses on this objective.

View uploaded report PDF file

A key objective of this project was to demonstrate and evaluate the use of small, light-weight, autonomous farm machinery in conducting on-farm soybean trials. We have concluded that the small, light-weight, autonomous Salin 247 platform is well suited for doing on-farm trial work although there are improvements that should be addressed relative our 2023 project work. We summarize some of the results and learnings below.

1) Using the Salin 247 small, light-weight, autonomous planter worked generally very good for the soybean seed population on-farm trial project. Planting performance was very good. Data collected from the Precision Planting 20/20 monitor showed excellent population, singulation, duplicates, and skip data. Planting depth was mostly good as indicated by down force measurements.
2) Salin 247 did experience a number of GPS-related issues during the trial. These issues impacted our planting productivity – i.e., caused us significant downtime. Fortunately, we believe we have now corrected these GPS problems. We tested four different GPS receiver brands and believe now we have one that is performed as needed.
3) We have also been evaluating receiving online RTK GPS corrections. Last year we used a local base station for RTK corrections. After experiencing a few early problems, the online corrections now seem to be performing well although we have the option of using a local base station if Internet access in the field is not available through a cellular modem.
4) In addition to the navigation issues, we decided to implement a new navigation algorithm during the trial in order to reduce navigation errors. This was successful, and navigation errors are now acceptable, even at higher speeds. On the final field we planted, mean absolute error was about 1 inch with a standard deviation of 0.45 inches.
5) With the corrected GPS problems as well as a new navigation algorithm, we are confident in planting at 5 to 6 mph without any navigation issues.
6) Using the light-weight, autonomous planter without a traditional tractor, increased soil compaction very little. On average, soil compaction increased only 14 PSI in the top 4 inches of soil where the Salin 247 planter drove.
7) Planting productivity was lower than what we wanted due primarily to the GPS problems, but we have also concluded that we can run a larger planter that is more productive and does not increase soil compaction. Based on our experience in the field this year, our plan is to move to a 20-foot or possibly even a 30-foot toolbar from the 10-foot toolbar used this year. Based on data collected this size of autonomous planter will not increase soil compaction significantly compared to the current planter.
8) Salin 247 made the mistake of not going to all of the trial fields prior to creating the field trial plot layout and planting prescription. In two cases, we had to redo the planting prescriptions due to unforeseen issues that could have been avoided with an early visit to the field.
9) Salin 247 learned that it would be beneficial to plant a check buffer around the plot area of the field. Since Salin 247 typically planted only a portion of the trial fields, when the grower planted the remaining parts of the field there was some overlap of the grower planter into the plot area. If Salin 247 had planted a 20-foot or wider buffer, an overlap would not have been a problem.
10) Salin 247 should have scheduled a project review meeting early in the season (possibly early March) to review details of the project and address any grower questions. It seems that some of the participating growers this year didn’t have all the project information they needed. This could have been avoided with a project kickoff meeting.
11) This on-farm trail was very valuable to Salin 247 in terms of helping with future design and capability changes. It was also helpful in terms of learning more about implementing a successful on-farm trial.
12) We anticipate that once yield monitor data has been collected and analyzed, we will be able to share useful seed population study results with the participating growers as well as all Iowa growers. Salin 247 looks forward to assisting with the analysis and communicating the results later in the fall.

Benefit To Soybean Farmers

By using smaller, lighter, autonomous machines to grow soybeans and other crops, farmers and the soybean industry will benefit in many ways. Grower benefits include reducing soil compaction; using fewer crop inputs per bushel of soybeans produced; using less labor; using less energy; requiring less capital; reducing operating costs; increasing soybean production profitability; reducing ag chemical exposure by taking the farmer out of the field during pesticide and fertilizer applications; reducing farm machinery accidents on the farm and on the road; and eliminating the use of fossil fuels for field operations and supporting the use of bio- and renewable fuels.

The United Soybean Research Retention policy will display final reports with the project once completed but working files will be purged after three years. And financial information after seven years. All pertinent information is in the final report or if you want more information, please contact the project lead at your state soybean organization or principal investigator listed on the project.