Food for Thought
Thomas Böck sums up an extraordinary fiscal year and takes a look ahead.
Reducing costs, lowering entry barriers for customers, or promoting urban plant cultivation: farming as a service and rental concept can take many forms. These examples show that technology and flexible contract models will be able to help farmers and contractors moving forward.
Short-term tractor rentals: no impact on sales, but more of what the customers want
When it’s harvest time, man and machine are in action practically 24 / 7. CLAAS analysis performed in Poland and other countries in 2018 showed that both smaller farms and contractors are increasingly on the lookout for additional machinery for short periods of time. Demand is highest for tractors, not least because of their versatility: transporting hay, working in barns, or transporting grain during the harvest. These findings gave rise to a new element in CLAAS core business: FIRST CLAAS RENTAL for tractors. Customers can choose from a selection of several dozen machines, from the ARION 400 with its 90 hp up to the 400 hp AXION 950, and rent them from dealers at ten locations in Germany. Besides evening out the workload, there are many other benefits for both customers and CLAAS alike. For example, farmers who are considering a purchase have enough time to test out the potential new member of their fleet with a rental tractor. The rental model has been such a resounding success over the past two years that CLAAS is now offering the same service in Denmark, where the CLAAS importer offers FIRST CLAAS RENTAL as a kind of franchise. In Germany, cultivation equipment such as field cultivators or disc harrows are also available thanks to a partnership with agricultural equipment provider Amazone.
Greater independence thanks to new harvest helpers
The coronavirus pandemic has provided proof of how reliant some farmers are on field workers. For this and other reasons, the “robots as a service” model is also gaining a foothold in agriculture. Opinions differ as to the global market volume for agricultural robots such as automatic milking systems, drones, and harvest robots, with estimates that the market will be worth anything from 7 to 20 billion U.S. dollars by 2025. Besides established machinery such as robotic milking machines, robotic weeders that can remove weeds without the need for pesticides are likely to be among the most popular innovations. However, machines such as these come in at a relatively costly 30,000 to 100,000 euros and are not as efficient as a real person – yet. That’s why rental models are important, to lower the entry barriers and open the door to innovation. In this area, companies like to price their service in terms of the volume of picked fruit or removed weeds. French manufacturer Naio Technologies and Danish providers Agrointelli and Farmdroid already have models on the market. Naio Technologies is working with over 100 farmers in Europe and Canada, where its robots are used in fields and in vineyards.
Urban indoor cultivation
Automated growing boxes to cultivate salad and herbs in supermarkets are just one urban solution for space-saving vegetable cultivation. Solutions such as these have a number of ecological advantages: cultivation in the supermarket directly reduces the need for transport and, according to manufacturers such as Infarm, the glass boxes are pesticide-free, only require a small amount of fertilizer, and use 95 percent less water than conventional cultivation methods. These miniature plantations are connected to a cloud system and control temperature, light, and nutrient density automatically. Harvesting by Infarm employees is also offered as part of the farming as a service. The start-up operates in seven European countries as well as in North America. Energy consumption and the bacterial resistance of the plants is often the source of criticism when it comes to indoor farming concepts such as these, but they remain an interesting option in efforts to boost the food supply without requiring new land for cultivation.
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