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Manage your farm fleet

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

Technology has advanced our lives in so many ways it's difficult to think of a major industry that hasn't benefited with increased productivity, profitability or sustainability. Even farming and agriculture are now entering the ranks of digital analysis, fleet management and operational performance monitoring. Agriculture and farming represent collectively one of the largest industries in the world, according to the World Health Organization, and will benefit greatly from the technological advancement sweeping across the industries of America.

A Brief History

Gone are the days of a farmer firing up a Hoyt Clagwell tractor to turn the soil. The reality is that farmers are often distant from the workshop, parts and the ability to make repairs. One example of a modern problem is a farmer's vehicle or tractor breaking down and facing return trip for a part on foot, only to discover that one breakdown had led to another and he now has to go back again. Productivity, time and money lost, not to mention frustration caused, are the results of this scenario. Fortunately, industry changes through fleet management are occurring that will work towards making problems like that one history.

Fleet Management

Within the trucking industry it's standard now to have GPS and vehicle maintenance sensors to track location, operations and the equipment maintenance status. Everything from driver performance, fuel economy to vehicle status is readily available for analysis and improvement.

Within the farming industry the advent of GPS and mobile communication nearly 20 years ago was a great step forward in communication and responsiveness to field conditions.

Now the agricultural industry is rapidly adapting the same fleet management technology as the transportation sector. Everything having to do with yields, soil conditions, vehicle maintenance, and productivity can be monitored and communicated in real time to the operator on the machine, the home base at the farmer's operations center.

For example, a potential service or maintenance problem, fuel and oil levels and even load capacity can be tracked and immediately and proactively addressed, minimizing costly downtime and maximizing productivity. If a piece of machinery is about to run out of fuel, it's exact location can be determined and re-supply can be coordinated to that location, with the exact solution required. Similarly, in the event of or even prior to an equipment failure the required parts, tools and repair personnel can be immediately dispatched by the farmer at the operations center.

Presently, there are approximately 129 different providers of wireless monitoring solutions, according to, a company that specializes in identifying current business software for almost any industry. The long list of choices is a good thing: it gives farmers different options on the technology front, and the more providers of wireless monitoring solutions there are keeps costs competitive. Plus, it overcomes the limitations of proprietary manufacturers' software.

One example is AGCO's AGCommand Fuse. This system essentially enables wireless communication between vehicles, the operator and the home base. A popular piece of equipment is a typical Challenger tractor for example. It has eight to ten computers which monitors everything from RPM's to engine temperature. Sensors monitor and evaluate service and maintenance issues as well as diagnose and report on any potential equipment failures. At the same time the Fuse can report on relevant field and agronomic issues. This system is also able to communicate via the web with apps available for iPads and iPhones.

This can be of tremendous benefit to farmers who now have a fleet management tool as sophisticated as any other industry. Productivity, profitability and sustainability are the key factors that govern any business model, and this technology can enhance all three categories. This not only allows farmers to grow their business but also overcomes the difficulties of dealing with multiple pieces of heavy equipment, separated by great distances, in varying terrain and often challenging weather conditions.

The Really Good News

It's generally the small to medium-sized farmers, not the really big farmers, who are making the jump to high-tech solutions. "It seems easier to integrate wholesale changes like this to moderately sized farms," notes Rob Saik, founder of AgriTrend Agrology. To an extent, adaption of the new technology has been somewhat limited by proprietary software systems according to Kyle Wiens in an article for Wiens, the co-founder and CEO of iFixit, an online repair community and parts retailer, observes that as more and more open source solutions become available, electronic fleet management for agriculture will become even more readily available and easier to implement.

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