Precision technology is improving all the time - but does that mean it's getting easier to use, or are we moving further away from the plug and play aspirations of the ISOBUS standard?
It was a commendable target - to create an industry standard with which all manufacturers would comply, meaning that any brand of tractor would work with any other implement. But has ISOBUS really delivered? The answer, it seems, could come straight off a school report: Could do better.
The compatibility of different systems depends on what they have in common, and the worldwide ISO 11783 (ISOBUS) standard defines the communication both between agricultural machinery and between equipment and farm software applications. "It is the most significant and comprehensive standard to date, but it leaves room for interpretation, which has led to a great number of innovative but proprietary ISOBUS solutions," says the Agricultural Industries Electronic Foundation (AEF), which implements international electronic standards.
All too often, farmers will buy a piece of equipment - like a variable rate spreader - and hook it up to a tractor which is ISOBUS ready. But the task controller may not have the ability to manage variable rates, or that functionality may be locked, says Simon Brown, managing director at Amazone.
Variable rate technology does seem to be the biggest sticking point, says Oliver Wood, Precision Technology Manager at Hutchinsons. “Sometimes the functionality just isn't there or it has to be unlocked at additional cost, despite paying a premium for ISOBUS ready kit."
The software side of things is similarly mixed. "With Omnia we produce a range of different file types so we can communicate with the vast majority of new equipment that's being sold. But the ISO XML file type has a number of different versions - you may assume there's a standard file type that works across the board but that's not the case."
So what needs to happen? "We need the industry to come together and agree some standards that everyone will use. ISOBUS should have been the vehicle that did that but ultimately it's down to every manufacturer to adopt those standards," says Oliver.
Omnia already has agreed file types between itself, Gatekeeper and Muddy Boots, and is working on doing the same with Greenlight Grower Management System. "Our farmers and agronomists expect us to make it easier for them. The whole reason we made the Connect product for variable rate control was because of the difficulties in getting prescription plans from the office to the machine," explains Oliver.
Users found it frustrating to put the map onto a USB drive in the office, then plug it into the tractor, unzip the file and so on, so now they can transfer the information wirelessly through the cloud. "The farmer doesn't have to worry about moving data around."