Getting different brands of farm implements and tractors to work with each other has long been a crapshoot on Midwest crop farms. Until recently, each manufacturer had its own language for electrical systems used on its machinery, making it difficult for farmers to mix and match brands. But new conformance testing, coming to North America as early as this fall, will move the industry one step closer to standardized communication.

The new test procedure, developed by the Agricultural Industry Electronics Foundation (AEF), will determine whether equipment complies with the International Standards Organization (ISO) 11783, called ISOBUS for short. The standard, introduced to the U.S. in 2001, lays out a universal protocol for electronic communication between implements, tractors and computers.

Until now, farm equipment manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to check for compatibility by organizing industrywide events called Plug Fests. At these events, manufacturers set up their devices on tables and take turns plugging them into the communication interfaces of other equipment. While the gatherings have helped manufacturers identify and solve glitches in equipment, there has been no documentation of compliance with the standard, other than testing performed by the DLG Group, a German agriculture society.

That’s where AEF’s new conformance testing plan comes in, providing a much-needed stamp of approval to a universally accepted test. Before being marketed, all ISOBUS equipment will undergo compliance testing. The Nebraska Tractor Test Lab will conduct the tests in North America and determine which products are universally compatible with other brands. Those that pass will be listed in an AEF ISOBUS database that consumers can check before making a purchase.

William Rudolph, AEF secretary, says it will be the same test used by the DLG in Europe, where mixed fleets are commonplace. “This will be a big step forward for everyone, especially the customers,” Rudolph says.

AEF will test a prototype of the database in late 2011. Once complete, the list will be made available through an AEF website.

“This is a very big job, and it will be difficult to include much of the older ISOBUS equipment,” Rudolph says. “But we are certain that, as this database grows, it will make acquisition and use of ISOBUS devices much easier for all.”

AEF’s next goal is to standardize data transfer among computers, implement controllers, and Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS). Rudolph says an xml protocol that allows for such transfer is already included in the current ISOBUS standard but it is not yet widely used. He says implementation will require the input of FMIS suppliers.

AEF is working to build a task force to encourage their involvement, Rudolph adds. “We feel the FMIS guys need to be an active part in making this work for everyone, so we very much want to bring their expertise into AEF.”

All these groups are working toward the goal of standardized information and information sharing because, as the Federation of Engineering Industry states, "the time of insular solutions is over; in the long run, neither the farmers nor the individual manufacturers profit from them.

"In the past," the federation says, "the development of the 3-pt. hitch and the PTO...pursued the goal of standardizing the mechanical connections of the tractor. Now, practice requires the same in the field of electrical and electronic equipment as well as information processing."

According to the group, among the many benefits of ISOBUS are that it will combine the tractor, the mounted implements and the terminal into a system with the qualities of a self-propelled machine; extend the possibilities of precision farming through more intelligent funtions and GPS data integraion; and make duplicate informtion collection and duplicate storage unnecessary.

 

Photo courtesy of Fuhrhop & Partner GmbH