By Connor Lynch
BOTHWELL — New technologies come with learning curves. Being ahead of the curve can mean being ahead of the game.
That’s the mindset of Haggerty Creek Ltd., which bought a futuristic metal robot on four wheels and used it to apply 1,400 acres with dry fertilizer. The robot is a DOT autonomous platform that went commercial last year and Haggerty Creek manager Chuck Baresich saw it a precision ag conference in London in 2018.
Haggerty Creek, a farm supply and grain marketing business at Bothwell northeast of Chatham-Kent, jointly owned by AGRIS Co-op and Chuck and Justin Baresich, is using the robot as a dedicated dry fertilizer applicator, although it can theoretically be configured to work with all manner of farm implements, except tilling, said AGRIS general manager Jim Campbell.
The plan is to turn a lot of theoretical knowledge into practical knowledge, Campbell said. “In the short-run, (it) doesn’t create a lot of new efficiencies. In the long-run, it may allow greater efficiency or an operator to be doing two things at the same time. The operative word being may,” he said.
Campbell was also clear about what DOT is not. Autonomous it may be, ostensibly, but it’s by no means fire-and-forget. “We’re not talking about farming from your easy chair in the living room, at least not now.” It’s more like a better version of auto-steer.
While DOT may be one of the first dedicated autonomous machines to arrive in Ontario, it won’t be the last, Campbell said.
DOT isn’t even Haggerty Creek’s first foray into autonomous machines. It has a much smaller one that they bought about a year ago, Campbell said, for small jobs like seeding clover and crop scouting.
Not all new technologies pan out, he added, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing valuable to be learned either. About seven years ago, AGRIS bought a number of drones for crop scouting. They don’t use them anymore and rely on other technologies for remote sensing. But, he said, they learned a great deal about what can be done with the data gathered.
So too may it be with DOT. “There’ll be different hardware in the future, but we’ll learn what efficiencies can be gained from using autonomous equipment.”
It’s been a busy year for autonomous machines, dedicated or not. Chicago-based robotics firm Sabanto expanded its fleet of autonomous tractors from one to four this year and put crop in the ground in Iowa this spring. That solo tractor planted thousands of acres last year and by early May had put 500 acres of crop in the ground. It uses Kubota-built tractors that are remote-controlled and otherwise conventional machines.
Farmer Justin Bellcock, who hired the firm to plant part of his acreage, told Progressive Farmer that autonomously-planted soybeans last year yielded over 75 bushels an acre, and he was optimistic that they’d come out similarly this season.