AHDB funding enables hands free hectare return

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The world-first project run by Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions to drill, tend and harvest a crop without operators on the machine and agronomists in the field has returned after successfully drilling its second crop; a hectare of winter wheat.

This time round, the Hands Free Hectare team are hoping to improve the accuracy of their machinery, and therefore improve the yield at harvest next year.

Martin Abell, mechatronics researcher for industry partner Precision Decisions, said: “The first year of the project aimed to prove that there’s now no technological reason a field can’t be farmed without humans working the land directly and we did that with only using off-the-shelf technology and open source software.

Now we’re returning, thanks to funding from the AHDB and the continued support from our industry sponsors, to try and increase the yield through increasing accuracy of our machinery and improved remote agronomy. We’re trying to push for a more competitive yield compared to what you see on the AHDB recommended lists and all other trials data available.”

But it’s not been the easiest of starts for the team. Kit Franklin, agricultural engineering lecturer and the project lead, said: “We had to abandon our first attempt to drill this season’s crop because it was raining quite heavily and the tractor was starting to slip around and lose its straight lines. The reason we’re doing the Hands Free Hectare again is to prove we can go straighter, so we called it a day and waited for better weather.

“After ten days of dreary weather, we managed to come back out and complete the task.

“When we drilled our spring barley earlier this year, the tractor was a bit wavy and so were the drill lines. We’ve had six months to develop the system and we’ve seen improvements which will improve field coverage and ultimately yield. The tractor was still a bit wayward when turning back into the field, but once it’s on the line it was really straight with pass to pass cover greatly improved.

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