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Innovations and challenges

What are the key aspects HORSCH’s R & D is currently dealing with and what are the next interesting topics Philipp Horsch is focussing on? With terraHORSCH he talked about his thoughts and ideas. The three big topics are the new Maestro generation, HorschConnect and the technology for regenerative farming.

terraHORSCH: The Agritechnica innovations have been presented and are already working successfully in the market. But it will still not be a quiet year for R & D, will it?
Philipp Horsch:
By no means, for we are working on all fronts at the same time. All products groups all over the world are moving on. By now, we have a very efficient team of about 150 people which consists of product managers, developers and design engineers. And we have four R & D sites all over the world: in Germany in Schwandorf and Landau and internationally at our sites in the US and in Brazil. The North American and the South American team are relatively self-dependent from an operational point of view, but they are, of course, closely linked to us from a technological point of view. But for this interview I would like to concentrate on the essential topics we have set the course for during the past year in Europe and all over the world. 

terraHORSCH: So let’s start with the most comprehensive topic – the Maestro sector. Solid, reliable and precise are only a few keywords that are associated with the HORSCH single grain technology. Which adjustments have been made?
Philipp Horsch
: We always proceed the same way: The well-proven features are not changed. But we again and again tackle new topics and innovations that have to be integrated. In this respect we, for example, deal with topics like the worldwide homogenisation of the Maestro lines, i.e. to have the same rows and use the same components. So far, we have been working with three different row bodies all over the world. But we also integrate new technologies. We are well aware of the fact that the current metering technology in our Maestros had its limits with regard to certain seed varieties and in certain conditions. The current generation for example required quite a lot of knowhow for an optimum adjustment. These were issues where we noticed: we have to deal with these topics. We set the course for this already some years ago.

terraHORSCH: But it surely has not only been user-friendliness that was top of the list.
Philipp Horsch:
User-friendliness was of major importance. But you are right, it has not been the only important topic. Other objectives were to increase the useable speed range of the vacuum system significantly, to achieve more variability for our row bodies concerning attachment options and row spacings, to integrate a completely new future-oriented electronic architecture and – very important – to base our two metering technologies vacuum and shoot system on a common platform. The objectives for our new developments were correspondingly ambitious. And we are very satisfied with the result. After the first series year during which approx. 300 machines worked in the field all over the world, we are sure we are on the right track. And we look confidentially to the future.

terraHORSCH: These two systems are suitable for seeds from small rape to large beans. HORSCH, thus, can offer the optimum system for all regions respectively all conditions.
Philipp Horsch:
Conditions vary extremely all over the world: from perfectly prepared garden grounds in West Germany to relatively coarse fields for example in the Red River Valley in the US to a mere no-till farming in Brazil. And let’s not forget all the different seed varieties. We again and again experience situations where catching rollers do not work as the conditions are too wet or the soil is too adhesive: This excludes a shoot system and a vacuum system is the only safe and practicable way. On the other hand, there are conditions that allow for sowing very quickly – in this case the shoot system is the best choice. Some seeds are sensitive and fragile, others are extremely large und do not fit in relatively small shoot lines and so on. In my opinion the question which system is the “best or the right” one is not trivial – this is why we need and will offer both systems in the future. And we maintain utmost flexibility: For one the vacuum system will be the best solution and for the other it will be the shoot system.

terraHORSCH: So vacuum technology will persist? You sometimes get the impression that the focus of all manufacturers worldwide was more on the shoot technology.
Philipp Horsch:
Far from it. In our case we even see an important renaissance in the vacuum sector because we managed to improve the vacuum system significantly especially with regard to precision at higher speeds. And another successful achievement for our systems: The metering units themselves are based on identical components and identical technology. By the way the metering units mostly do not require any adjustments. That means: fill in the seed and get started. Easy to use, easy to convert, easy when changing between crops. This is where we managed to make a big step forward with regard to user-friendliness.

terraHORSCH: A season with so many new machines and technologies in the field surely has not been easy. How did the machines perform this spring?
Philipp Horsch:
When we take a look back at the season it is only natural that with more than 300 new machines in the field there are quite a few points that can and have to be optimised. And, of course, there are issues that were annoying for our customers. Unfortunately, this year for example, we again had to deal with the topic of the grain counting sensors in the fall tubes. The year was extremely dry and therefore it was very dusty. Everywhere in Europe. We intensely worked on new sensors and software. We carried out countless test runs in dust chambers. And we were sure that we had the problem under control. Though it was significantly better than in past dusty years, it was not yet perfect. A detailed analysis showed that the problem fortunately was manageable, and we were able to find a solution by the end of the season. We are now working on all the topics and are preparing for the coming season.

terraHORSCH: What will be next?
Philipp Horsch:
First of all, the most important objective is to integrate the new metering systems in all known models for next year and moreover, to launch further new versions of various machines of our product range. For example, in the sector of 3-point machines as well as of the large seed wagons: We are working on more variable seed wagon concepts with a larger capacity for the international export markets.

terraHORSCH: The Maestro DV is extremely variable, too, as the single grain seed bar at the seed wagon can quickly and easily be replaced by a seed bar for cereals. Is this machine more than just a product for Eastern Europe?
Philipp Horsch:
In this respect the feedback we got from our customers showed two things: On the one hand this technology is well received in the market mentioned above and on the other hand we also have customers in Western Europe who would like to have such a technology. This shows how fast the Maestro DV has been accepted. Of course, we are working on developing this type of machine also for the markets in the EU so that it fits from a technical point of view and for example also gets a homologation for road service.

terraHORSCH: What is your personal wish for the Maestro from a technological point of view?
Philipp Horsch:
To somehow combine the two worlds of metering. A system where you can variably switch between both systems while driving. That’s what I am dreaming of.

terraHORSCH: Another big topic at the Agritechnica was HorschConnect. You always call this technology a bunch of possibilities. What are the possibilities and when will the system be available?
Philipp Horsch:
Digitisation does not stop at farming. On the contrary – we have been right in the middle of it for years. And we are living through recurrent ups and downs. Some things help us to advance, other things are complete nonsense. But one thing is for sure: It will go on! And the basis for the next development steps for us is the connection of all machines to the internet. Only if this has been accomplished, the bunch of new possibilities and functions can start to grow.
The term “HorschConnect“ combines all our topics in this context. We are working on a lot of our own solutions that we want to offer our customers step by step, for example comprehensive possibilities to operate the machine via smartphone or tablet  or a simple telemetric system, comprehensive diagnostic tools, various service functions as well as a better connection of the farmer to our systems. We are thinking about a “HORSCH App Store“ where our customer will find many helpful digital functions and offers – if possible free of charge for our customers.
At the same time our system is to be open for and compatible to external providers and applications and we would like to have external contributions in this context. With regard to connectivity towards third parties we among others rely on the Agrirouter: We have been involved in the project from the very start and this platform is becoming more and more important. But we are also open for direct connections. This spring we started with comprehensive tests in the field all over the world. In 2021 we will start in specific markets with some first functions which will step by step be extended worldwide. It is important to know that everything can be retrofitted easily. Thus, our existing customers, too, will be able to use it.

terraHORSCH: Which role will the topic data and its handling play in this respect?
Philipp Horsch:
Data is and will remain the basis for a lot of very reasonable functions regarding the use of agricultural machinery. This is not new. Comprehensive data has always existed and been stored in different systems – in the systems of our companies, at the farmer’s or in the machines. It is essential to combine all this information in a reasonable way and generate a benefit for the farmer. The connection of all machines as described above will a take us a big step forward. And, of course, data privacy ranks first among all these thoughts. The farmer definitely is the owner of the data and every farmer decides what is to happen with which data. Customer data are, thus, saved on servers in the EU and are handled according to the General Data Protection Regulation.

terraHORSCH: As for the media response worldwide, we have put the cart before the horse. For the big headlines regarding the Agritechnica rather were: HORSCH now also offers a harrow and a hoe.
Philipp Horsch:
We have already been dealing with these topics for quite some years and we have never thought about buying a manufacturer of hoeing and harrow technology who already exists on the market. On our farms, we have been working on this technology for such a long time that it soon became obvious that we have to and want to develop everything ourselves. When there is a HORSCH logo on the machine, the technology inside also has to be HORSCH – and uncompromisingly so.

terraHORSCH: Which customers did you have in mind for these completely new machines? HORSCH traditionally develops a machine for a certain target group and then step by step develops the whole market with a lot of versions and options. The compact disc harrow and the plant protection sprayers are excellent examples from the past.
Philipp Horsch:
We want to provide technology that covers the whole professional range of mechanical plant protection respectively in the population management sector and appeals to the traditional organic or hybrid family farm as well as to large farms. Harrow and hoeing technology often are built rather delicately. We attached great importance to keep the focus on our main target group, the larger farms, and particularly on being robust and simple. This spring, a large, however still limited number of the harrow Cura ST and the hoe Transformer VF worked in the field all over the world – and quite satisfactorily too. We learned that we will need a larger variety of tools to be able to work even better and more precisely in the most different conditions. We are working on this and will include our solutions step by step. What is most important: It has to be simple and robust. We also want to make do with as little electronic and regulation technology as possible.

terraHORSCH: Building a very robust harrow and hoe for the first time stood the test this spring, didn’t it?
Philipp Horsch:
The drought during this spring was an enormous challenge. In the demonstrations we saw that our machines, most of all the Cura ST, quite literally lie on the soil like a board and leave an excellent work pattern even on dry, hard soils. This, of course, is due to the design of our machines and it became apparent that we backed the right horse. For light machines it is difficult to break open the crust and to penetrate the soil. They have difficulties in running smoothly. And this shows that our design is very advantageous and that our machines quite simply lie on the soil in a much more close-fitting way. Thus, you can drive at higher speeds and still work delicately and precisely. The same is true for the Transformer – if required we can apply so much pressure on the parallelograms of the hoe that it runs smoothly and works very precisely.

terraHORSCH: This interview was conducted at the beginning of May when we still were right in the middle of the Corona lockdown. How did you perceive the pandemic - for HORSCH and for the agricultural sector in general?
Philipp Horsch:
We have talked a lot about the experiences with our machines in spring. In the Corona year it was an unprecedented challenge to carry out all these tests and gather all these experiences, especially as it was not possible to accompany all these activities from Schwandorf as we had originally planned. Our colleagues, sales partners and customers took a very active part, and everything worked out considerably more smoothly and better than we feared in March. We also were one of the first companies to react to the pandemic when we cancelled our seminar with 700 guests. At the beginning of March not everyone was happy with this decision. But today everybody says: It was exactly the right thing to do. I don’t want to imagine what might have happened. From today’s point of view, we are very happy and grateful that as of the lockdown on 16th of march everything continued so smoothly. We were for example worried if the spare part supply and the support of our customers would work and if we would be able to deliver all outstanding machines on schedule. Due to the team spirit of our employees we have so far been able to meet all challenges without major problems – thanks to our committed colleagues.
And we noticed that the crisis has influenced the image of the agricultural sector in a positive way. We are grateful that our customers were allowed to, had to and were able to continue working. In 2019 there was a massive public pressure on the farmers, and they could only make themselves heard by means of a demonstration with hundreds of tractors in Berlin. Since Corona the public opinion regarding the agricultural sector has been developing in a significantly more positive way. And I hope that this is a sustainable development.