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The growing global population means a greater need for food. At the same time, the economic pressure on many farmers is growing as well. Hermann Lohbeck explains why digital data and the right links are two keys to success for CLAAS and its customers.
Interview: Robert Habi
Mr. Lohbeck, the global population is growing while cropland for growing food shrinks. Is efficient agricultural equipment the answer to making sure everyone has enough to eat?
It is one element, yes. But it isn’t the only solution. To achieve that aim, many actors from politics, science and research, agriculture, and industry have to join hands, because huge issues like climate change, global trading structures, or mechanisms governing the global distribution of foods can only be addressed by working together. CLAAS takes its role in this framework very seriously. We are working hard every day to help our customers across the globe generate greater yields from their fields in increasingly shorter harvest periods. We manage this by providing the right hardware and digital technology.
Will it be the case in the future that a farmer can manage his farm from the couch by using a few apps and nothing more?
The trend is moving in that direction at least, even if it’s an extreme scenario. You can see it with our self-driving combine harvesters. All of the functions that an operator once had to optimize are now regulated by the machine. In self-driving mode, a model like that delivers harvesting performance of up to 100 metric tons per hour. A human operator can only achieve this kind of efficiency for a limited period of time. But there will never be such a thing as a farmer who has nothing at all to do anymore.
Does software already supersede hardware?
Software is becoming more important. It offers the customer new solutions and enhances our added value. In its most powerful form, we are talking about artificial intelligence, which can help optimize the entire process. This means that various vehicles will increasingly work together as part of a network, just like the combine harvester and trailers do via the Fleet View application in departure logistics. Every charted sequence makes the system smarter.
Is there a “But” here?
Yes, in fact there is. Hardware remains our core competence. Software will complement the harvesting technology, which you can see through CLAAS Sequence Management for CLAAS tractors, through the CEMOS AUTOMATIC adjustment software for combine harvesters, and through the camera-guided AUTO FILL system for forage harvesters.
What information is collected? Where is it collected? And how?
Sensors on the machinery permanently collect information to answer questions such as: How much fertilizer do I need? What are the soil conditions? Customers can send the findings to the cloud and analyze them immediately. The keyword here is remote services. Real-time processing is essential, because what good is remote access to the CLAAS harvester or tractor if the data does not show up on the service technician’s display until minutes later? Ideally it would need the 5G wireless standard. It’s a key technology, including for autonomous driving as well. We are still waiting for 5G in Germany. The situation looks better internationally, for example in China and the United States.
What were some of last year’s highlights for you?
Our footprint in many countries continues to grow. That’s why, for me, the first CLAAS combine harvester made in China is a great project, which an international team carried out across many national borders. Generally speaking, we stepped up collaboration and digitalization with external partners through our Greenhouse, where we provide startups and our employees with lots of space to run wild so that innovation continues to be one our most important driving forces.
“Hardware remains our core competency. Software is becoming an increasingly important addition.”
Let’s take a look at the business side of things: 2017 went better than expected for Forage Harvesting, which you oversee. Then came along the period of drought this summer. How has that had an impact?
The overall feedstuffs market saw 11 percent growth in 2017. We could tell by the increased demand for large harvesting equipment like the DISCO disc mowers and LINER swathers. The trend kept up into summer 2018. However, the devastating drought, especially in Germany and Europe, is reflected in the figures, because many farms had to buy feed. On an international level, the figures look stable.
New links – is that just a digitalization issue?
No, excellent mechanical engineering remains a key issue for us. The focus in agriculture frequently revolves around “links” in a very practical sense. This past summer, we introduced a brand-new ORBIS front attachment for our JAGUAR forage harvester that delivers the best cutting quality during corn harvesting, even in tough weather and soil conditions. You will of course find digitalization here too, since each ORBIS comes equipped with a communication module as standard. It transmits the data to the forage harvester and stores the settings of the JAGUAR. The settings aren’t lost, even after switching attachments, which saves time and avoids operating errors.
Let’s take a brief look ahead. What things will be important to CLAAS next year?
We will continue to press ahead with digitalization, of course. We have a few machinery developments up our sleeve here. The intuitive controls in the new TUCANO combine harvester are one good example. The idea here is this: hop in and get right to work. Another exciting development is that machinery performance is becoming more important, not ownership, which is why we are going to observe whether the trend towards rentals lasts through the peak loads.
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