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Machinery manufacturers working to reduce emissions

Cycles of relentless drought and intense flooding lie in the future of farming.

“If there’s ever a year where you had to say: ‘Is it real?’ this is the year,” says Eric Hansotia, president and CEO of AGCO. “I’m afraid these kinds of climate events are part of farming, more frequently and more severely than in the past. So farmers are going to have more risk, more volatility, more things to manage.”

Atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are among the primary culprits of climate change, according to USDA. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Lab reported global average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at a record high 414.72 parts per million in 2021.

Overview of US emissions in 2020

That is up almost 100 ppm from when the NOAA began recording in 1963. Nitrous oxide is a smaller contributor to overall GHG than carbon dioxide, but is 300 times more potent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Carbon sequestration in the soil gets lots of attention in the climate change discussion, but machinery manufacturers are also tackling sustainable agriculture with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at the machinery level.

Current Strategies 

Among the foremost factors driving GHG emission reduction are EPA regulations. Currently, the EPA regulates emissions by requiring Tier 4 Final engines for off-highway, diesel-powered vehicles running between 174 and 750 hp. engines.

Case IH was able to meet EPA regulations and also increase oil change intervals from 500 to 600 hours with its Tier 4 engines, says Mitch Kaiser, marketing manager for Steiger tractors at Case IH. The higher horsepower tractors with Tier 4 engines also can pull wider implements that cover more acres per hour, thus reducing fuel use to 1.5 gallons per acre.

“We also foster no-till planting with our planters, and we practice residue management to keep as much of the organic matter in the soil that we can and leave some of the residue on top,” says Kaiser. 

The Fendt Rogator sprayer in the field
Photo credit: AGCO

Some manufacturers tap sustainability through precision agriculture. AGCO’s targeted spraying will use artificial intelligence-based vision systems to determine the difference between crops and weeds, spraying only the weed with herbicide, says Eric Hansotia, AGCO president and CEO. Targeting just the weed reduces the amount of chemical applied. Targeting just the weed reduces the amount of chemical applied, in turn reducing chemical in the ground.

“In our precision ag business, all of those applications and automation to use less inputs are also about sustainability and less waste,” says Hansotia.

John Deere See and Spray Select
 John Deere’s See & Spray system operates similarly, reducing herbicide usage up to 77% while still hitting 98% of weeds in the field, according to the company’s 2021 sustainability report.

These shifts for sustainability come with a cost, and manufacturers are aware many producers may be priced out of the latest innovations. 

AGCO addresses this by offering retrofit solutions through Precision Planting, says Louisa Parker-Smith, director of global sustainability at AGCO. The FurrowJet, for example, is a planter-mounted device that applies phosphorus right below the seed in the furrow rather than spraying the whole field, thus minimizing runoff and increasing input efficiency. 

Deere offers performance upgrades for planters going back to 2005 and sprayers to 2014, according to its sustainability report. Kits for older model years and additional equipment types are in development. This offering encourages sustainability through practice, as well as reducing the waste created by abandoning outdated equipment.  

The Future

AGCO has developed a global climate risk assessment, looking at two extreme future scenarios for climate change. 

“One is a world in which we sort of fail to curb the worst impacts of climate change, and global temperatures continue to increase severely,” says Parker-Smith. “The other extreme is that we see governments and international communities coming together, all bringing to bear whatever tools they have in their toolbox to push a rapid low-carbon transition. At the moment, we’re somewhere in the middle.”

Citing fossil fuels as one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, California regulations will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks by the end of 2035, with diesel big rigs possibly following suit by 2040. “It would be the next significant step in accelerating towards a zero-emission transportation system,” the California Air Resources Board’s proposal says.

Case IH and New Holland’s shared engineering and development teams have already been working to preemptively meet standards such as this.

Case IH Farmall C Stage V tractor in the field.
Photo credit: Case IH

“Our Farmall C tractor is running a Stage V engine, so we’re already looking at that for a number of small tractors,” says Kaiser. “We’re definitely looking at electric drives on smaller ones, looking at methane, looking at hydrogen — anything that can reduce the carbon footprint and use regenerative, naturally produced resources.”

AGCO has a similar lineup of alternatively propelled vehicles in the works, with the all-electric Fendt e100 targeted for commercial launch before 2025. Battery technology is still in research; battery cost, size, weight, charge times, and horsepower limitations currently present a challenge. 

“Beyond 150 hp. we absolutely will need alternative technologies,” says Parker-Smith. “Hydrogen and biomethane are more likely to be the solution for larger machines.”

The New Holland T6 Methane Power tractor.
Photo credit: New Holland
New Holland is working toward a carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative future, with the T6 Methane Power tractor set to hit the mass market in 2023. This tractor closes the loop on energy production and use, turning biowaste from livestock into fuel.

Mark Lowery, director of commercial marketing for New Holland, says farmers in states like California with access to infrastructure supporting methane-based fuel such as digesters are interested, but others are waiting to see the commercial availability of the fuel before jumping on board. 

Fuel accessibility is not the only infrastructure needed for sustainable agriculture. Precision agriculture is increasingly reliant on broadband connections, which can have sparse availability in rural areas. 

ConectarAGRO is an industry consortium uniting AGCO, Bayer, CNH Industrial, Jacto, Nokia, Solinftec, TIM, and Trimble to bring connectivity to Brazilian farmers. Parker-Smith says this type of partnership may also apply to the future of renewable fuel accessibility.

“This is where the industry, even competitors, comes together collaboratively to actually tackle those challenges as a sector,” says Parker-Smith. “I think for decarbonization, it’s exactly the same. We’re going to need a value chain approach where every partner needs to come in with their piece of the jigsaw puzzle to make the whole thing work.”

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