80 Acres of Iron

December 10, 2009 06:00 PM

Everything about Agritechnica is big. Big crowds flock to the big show to spend hours walking big halls to see big machines and technology with big ideas displayed in big exhibits. More than 350,000 visitors traveled from 81 countries to attend the 2009 show in Hanover, Germany, during the second week of November.

There were 2,300 exhibitors from 46 countries sprawled across 18 halls at the Hanover fairground, more than showgoers could see in one day, no matter how fast they walked.

"The show is something you can't believe until you see it,” explains Gary Gronewald, Pickrell, Neb., farmer and first-time visitor to the show, who won a trip through Farm Journal. "We're used to Husker Harvest Days, so the sheer size of Agritechnica took us by surprise. Beyond size, the wide range of machines is something we just don't see in the U.S.”

Held every two years, Agritechnica is home to machines that range from the teeny-tiny to odd, mammoth monsters that make showgoers stop in the aisle and ponder what the hulk in front of them does in the field. More times than not, those peculiar, high-tech machines have something to do with vegetable or root crops.

This year the global shift to larger equipment was obvious, particularly compared with the shows held before Eastern Europe opened up as a market. Choppers, forage wagons, seeders, sprayers—virtually every type of machine on display—are larger than in years past. That's good news for U.S. farmers, who are more likely to find technology compatible for their farms.

No matter where you farm, two tractors were showstoppers: the Deutz Agro XXL and the new Claas Xerion 5000.

Big, bad tractors. The 29'-long Deutz bad boy was finished a few days before the show—just in time for a driving impression by the German machinery magazine profi before transport to the show. The specs and features of the machine are impressive, but the one-of-a-kind design is what captured the crowds. The 600-hp, eight-wheeled tractor has four bogie axles that can "walk” over uneven terrain. Equipped with a Funk powershift transmission with 18 forward and six reverse gears, it packs two fuel tanks holding more than 300 gal.

"The stats for the XXL are impressive,” says Manfred Neunaber, editor of profi. "It is a good machine for areas with narrow roads and the need for high horsepower. There are regions of Europe where articulated tractors are just too big for the roads.”

The tractor is one of two prototypes currently built. Deutz expects to begin production in 2010.

Right before the show, Helmut Claas, founder of the global company that bears his name, personally unveiled the muscular Xerion 5000, at 524 hp, and the model 4500, at 483 hp.

Noting that the tractors have power and intelligence, Claas announced that the two big machines will join two smaller models of the Xerion. All four share the ability to be equipped with a cab that rotates with the touch of a button. The tractor rides on four equal-sized wheels with two steerable axles. Even though the tractor boasts the horsepower to handle big jobs in the field, it is less than 10' wide when outfitted with standard tire options.

The 24-volt on-board electrical system can be used to power electric motors on implements. In addition, the tractor is equipped with an extra 12-volt on-board electrical system.

The entire tractor can be operated with a multifunction control lever, which is much like a computer mouse. The control system is operated with the thumb, index finger and middle finger and features a handrest.

Claas will have a limited number available at the beginning of 2010 and expects full production by the end of the year. "There are areas of the U.S. and Canada where the Xerion really fits well,” says Bob Armstrong, product marketing manager for Claas in North America. "It makes sense anytime there is a need for raw horsepower and pure pulling power.”

Joining the ranks of out-of-the-box innovators was Belarus, with its 300-hp tractor equipped with an on-board generator that kicks out 220 kw. Of that, 172 kw can be delivered to external machinery. Some of the power is also used for the transmission and the front PTO.

Make it work better. John Deere showed its ActiveCommand Steering, a completely new fly-by-wire smart steering system. Designed for future 8R Series tractors, the system received one of five gold medals given by DLG, the show's organizer. The system says goodbye to the traditional steering column and instead relies on a gyroscope, sensors on the steering knuckles and steering wheel, and a set of electronic and hydraulic actuators. The required manual force and number of steering wheel turns automatically adjusts to the tractor's speed. The system also uses a dynamic stability control system to reduce oversteer at transport speeds.

On the gold medal–winning front, Claas and New Holland were recognized for their forage chopper auto-fill systems. The systems become the "eyes” for the chopper operator and make sure trailers or trucks are loaded evenly and as fully as possible. Digital 3-D photo analysis is used to see how the discharge chute needs to adjust for the best fill.

Claas won another gold medal for the electronic machine-optimizing service (CEMOS), a high-tech interactive system for Claas combines that monitors the machines' settings and operation and then makes recommendations to the operator on what to do for optimal machine performance.

Even without medals, innovation was also present in the following:
  • The Dickey-john Hay Moisture Tester is a step toward real-time calculation for hay yield and value.
  • TeeJet Technologies displayed solenoid-controlled nozzles for individualized spray control.
  • Several companies showcased ISOBUS advancements that allow tractors to talk to implements.
Robots that talk to each other and telematics that allow machines to communicate with each other were sprinkled throughout the show.

The biofuels hall bustled with activity, but it was different than what would be expected in the U.S. The majority of attention was focused on biogas as an alternative fuel. "The biogas market has grown tremendously in Germany,” explains Wolfram Dreier, who works with Schnell, a German company that has been active in the industry for 20 years. "The technology fits our agriculture here.”

The Mood at the Show

The sheer size of Agritechnica makes it a perfect place to take the global pulse of the machinery industry. The current mood and outlook for 2010 is cautiously positive. Even though the boom times of 2008 seem long ago now, the dozens of executives that agreed to confidential interviews believe the machinery business has stabilized and will begin to climb again by the end of 2010.

That doesn't mean that manufacturers heavily vested in the Eastern market of former Russia aren't still reeling from the dramatic screeching halt to machinery sales in 2009 that followed the stratospheric spike in sales in 2008. The financial crisis and credit paralysis changed the market overnight. "This is just a crisis; it will pass like they all do,” explained one Russian equipment maker, talking about the market meltdown in the matter-of-fact manner that U.S. farmers use to talk about the occasional drought.

The wild ride of the past few years—and the ongoing consolidation in the machinery business—has some companies looking for suitors and some larger companies thinking about "what-if” scenarios.

You can e-mail Charlene Finck at

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