AGCO CEO Offers Peak Under the Hood

AGCO Eyes Retrofit Strategy to Extend Autonomous Technology to Any Equipment Brand

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
AGCO CEO Eric Hansotia talks about the automated technologies AGCO is ready to release and its plans for a full-crop-year lineup of autonomous systems. (Photo courtesy of AGCO)

PEMBROKE, Ky. (DTN) -- AGCO Corp. and its technology arm, Precision Planting, put on display at the farm of Steve, Lucas and Wesley Bolinger in Pembroke, Kentucky, showcasing a half-dozen systems sporting technologies already on the market or soon to be.

Working across harvested and unharvested wheat fields on a late June day, AGCO lifted the curtain on autonomous grain cart and autonomous baling systems. It showed dealers, investors and media its newest precision spraying market technologies -- booms mounted with stereo cameras to guide spot spraying and residual applications across weed masses at up to 15 mph. AGCO offered test drives of its prototype electric, 70-horsepower Fendt tractor, with some hints that a commercial model might be ready by year's end. And AGCO showed off its increasingly automated, clean sheet Momentum planter, 2,000 sold since they were introduced in 2020.

Much of its technology is sold as retrofit kits mounted onto any AGCO product, but also fit to any competing brand. AGCO views its retrofit strategy to quickly move its technologies into vast quantities of machinery already operating on farms, no matter the brand; factory installations coming two or three years later.

DTN/Progressive Farmer had a few minutes on a hot summer day to speak with Eric Hansotia, AGCO's chairman, president and CEO, about technologies and other subjects. The question-and-answer interview begins here.

DTN/Progressive Farmer: What is it that AGCO is wanting to show farmers, dealers and the investment community with the technology displays here at the Bolinger farm?

Eric Hansotia: We want to make (AGCO) technologies come to life for people, that they understand what they can really do in real life for a farmer. You're seeing autonomous solutions, you're seeing clean energy, you're seeing artificial intelligence applied to a sprayer. All of these are technologies that we're developing to solve farmer problems, we want to show what the impact can be for a farmer.


DTN/Progressive Farmer: What is the impact AGCO expects?

Hansotia: We're trying to solve a few things. Productivity enhancement is a big one. We want to make sure there's a good payback (in one or two years) for the farmer either reducing the cost of their inputs or helping them raise yields.


DTN/Progressive Farmer: If we have heard any word used multiple times today it is "retrofit." Would you explain the strategy?

Hansotia: (Retrofitting) allows us to get our cutting-edge technology out to (farming's) mixed fleet. A farmer may already have a planter. He can decide to either buy a brand-new planter to get at the latest and greatest technology, or he can take his existing planter and upgrade it to give it new capabilities using a retrofit module. By doing that, he gets the latest and greatest performance at a much lower cost point. (Retrofitting) also give AGCO access to the entire (machinery) market. We want to serve all farmers regardless of what they bought in the past. We want to give them access to this latest, greatest technology, designed (to) fit on any brand.


DTN/Progressive Farmer: One of the working stations out here today shows AGCO's autonomous grain cart working next to an IDEAL 8T combine harvesting wheat. Can customers expect this is just the first autonomous, harvesttime tool from AGCO -- for example, an autonomous fall tillage solution or a planter to put in second-crop beans behind the combine?

Hansotia: Autonomous vehicles need to solve a set of common problems. So, there's vision systems to determine if there's an obstacle in front of the vehicle, there's path planning to determine what route to follow, and so on. There's a number of those modules that are being developed on this application that will also be readily used in other applications. We feel this is a great place to start, because it's a critical need for the farmer. It's an intense period of the year when they're harvesting grain and hard to get enough labor. This technology can help with labor, help with efficiency by keeping the combine running at full speed.


DTN/Progressive Farmer: The road to autonomy is by way of automation, automating functions that eventually allow work to be accomplished without operators in the cab. Is that coming for the sprayer?

Hansotia: Look what's happened to the planter. Ten years ago, there were very few functions that were automated. Now almost all the functions on that planter can be automated. It can measure organic matter changes and change the population rate, or it can change depth. We're bringing that same mindset to spraying, step by step, adding more and more capability to the sprayer, automating each task so that ultimately, the job is getting easier and easier and easier for the operator. They're having to do less complicated things. The machine does them for them in an optimal way. Ultimately, (we0 can pull the operator out.


DTN/Progressive Farmer: AGCO is showing some technological thinking out here, today. How does this reflect AGCO's product development plans over the next five years?

Hansotia: We've made a strong commitment to our farmers. We said by 2030, we're going to have a full (autonomous) cycle, meaning everything for a farmer all the way around the cropping cycle, of autonomous solutions -- planting, spraying, harvesting, and so on. That's one, we're going to have clean energy solutions. We have a battery electric tractor, here. In some applications, that's already an economic solution for farmers. We will have clean energy solutions starting 2024. Targeted spraying is our third pillar. We'll have retrofit and from the factory solutions over the next few years. Smart machines and clean energy solutions are our two big engines. We're investing. We spent $100 million more this year than we did last year in engineering. We bought several technology companies; we're going as fast as we can to solve farm problems.


DTN/Progressive Farmer: Last question. Regarding autonomous operations, what's the hardest nut to crack?

Hansotia: There are a number of challenges. (But) I would say finding, we call them corner conditions, those kind of the oddball situations on the farm. A plastic bag blows across in front of the tractor. Is a tractor to stop for that or drive through it. The situation where there's a muddy spot in the field. A trained farmer will look at it and say, "Well, based on its reflection, I know that's no problem. I can just drive right on through." Whereas, if it looks a little bit different, he would say, "No, I gotta stop. In fact, I have to back up. There's no way I should get anywhere near that mudhole." We have a lot of those problems to be solved. It's all these corner conditions, all these oddball scenarios. We got to keep finding them and solving them.

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Dan Miller