Lighting on farm machinery is dramatically better than it was a decade ago, and three factors are pushing the switch.

The first factor is the increase in farm size, requiring farmers to work more hours after dark to get their fieldwork done. “More farmers want to run around the clock,” says AGCO's Brett DeVries, product manager specialist for Challenger Combines. “So having good lighting at night is definitely key.”

Another factor is the increase in the size of equipment, says Brian Arntson, product manager for John Deere large row-crop tractors. “As equipment has gotten larger so has the need to see farther ahead and from side to side to keep an eye on today's large field implements,” he says. He explains that improved vehicle designs support additional lighting. For example, electrical system capacities have been increased to support the additional amps required to run more lights.

Finally, field speeds have gone up to around 5 to 7 mph, says Mitch Kaiser, Case IH product manager. “You need light to go further as speeds increase,” Kaiser says.

Equipment makers are taking inspiration and guidance from the automotive industry, using LED lights and offering bigger, better and brighter lights on tractors, combines and farm implements. “Improved reflector and optical technologies in addition to the development of new light sources have drastically improved our ability to properly illuminate vehicle work areas,” says Victoria McHugh, product manager of Hella, a lighting manufacturer that makes lights for AGCO tractors.

Here's a closer look at the new lighting technologies, products and practices that are meeting farmers' needs.

Light-emitting diodes

LEDs emit light from one to many tiny printed circuit board components. Because they don't have a filament, they won't burn out like ordinary incandescent bulbs. LED lights require minimal power consumption (typically only 1 to 3 watts), can withstand high vibration and are compact.

Case IH believes LED lights are the future for the tractor industry. It is following the automotive industry's lead by installing LED lights in warning lights, such as signals. AGCO uses LED lights in its taillights for turn signals. John Deere uses these lights in cabs for operators to see high/low indicators and for automatic temperature controls for air-conditioning. New Holland uses LED lights in its shaft speed sensors on its combines, allowing the operator to easily determine if the sensor is functioning.

In the future, LED lights will be available in more lighting applications, including headlights and interior lights.

HID lights

To create high-intensity discharge (HID) light, a chamber is filled with xenon gas, which uses a small electric arch instead of a filament to create a more intense light. The light is up to two-and-a-half times brighter, while consuming 35% less power than a halogen bulb. HID light also lasts up to five times longer than a halogen bulb. HID light is a whiter light, whereas halogen light is more yellow. Studies have shown that the more abundant and natural HID light on farm equipment reduces stress and fatigue in the operators.

Because tractors and other agricultural vehicles run over uneven surfaces, a light source that can withstand large amounts of vibration is important. The xenon capsule does not contain a filament, so it will not come loose or burn out when subjected to extreme movement, unlike a filament that can become dislodged.

There are typically two types of HID lights: close-range light or spotlight that projects light directly on the work area, and long-range light or floodlight that projects light for long distances, shooting out at a wide angle for increased visibility.

HID lights are a popular option with farmers who want increased brightness, a wider area of light and a longer-lasting light. “The development of xenon lighting technology over the past few years has been the most significant development with regard to work lamps,” Hella's McHugh says.

Unfortunately, HID lighting is still quite expensive. “Currently the cost penalty keeps HID from becoming the standard light package,” says Brian Falk, New Holland combine product marketing manager. In spite of the cost, most major manufacturers offer HID lights.

AGCO has offered the lights on most of its tractors since 2001 and has offered them on its combines since 2003. John Deere started using optional HID lights in 2001 on its 8020 and 9020 series tractors. In 2004 it added HID lights to its 7020 series tractors. Depending on the model, tractors can be equipped with up to six HID lights. Case IH has offered HID lights since 1979 and has added more options over the years. For example, up to nine HID lights are offered in its Axial-Flow combine series, with six HID lights included as part of the standard package.

Delayed egress lighting

Many makes and models of tractors and combines feature lights outside the cab that stay on for up to two minutes after the operator opens the cab door, allowing for a safe exit from the cab.

Exit lights are standard on the AGCO MT700, MT800 and MT900 tractors. Lights can be set for one to 20 minutes. Lights go on in the cab roofline, and two front headlights stay on as well. AGCO's Massey Ferguson, Challenger and Gleaner combines offer a light on the left side of the seat that stays on for 30 seconds after the driver opens the door.

Case IH offers egress lights on its models that stay on for 30 to 120 seconds. John Deere 6030 series offers LED light on the cab steps. New Holland offers small lights on the entry steps that stay on up to 120 seconds.

Better placement

Light placement is as important to good tractor lighting as brightness is, McHugh says. “Lighting placement on the vehicle as well as the angle of inclination of the lamp are key components to optimal illumination of the work area and the elimination of dead spots,” she says.

All of the major equipment manufacturers have added more lights and placed them to illuminate larger work areas.

Beacon lights

Case IH says farmers are asking for more beacon lights on their farm equipment so they can be more easily seen on the road. To meet that need, it offers a flashing dual-beacon light option that can be mounted on any vehicle. Two rotating beacons are optional on Case IH's 2500 combine series. Three rotary beacons are standard on its 7010 and 8010 series. The beacon lights can be automatic to indicate when the grain tank is full.

AGCO, New Holland and John Deere all offer optional rotary beacons.

Lighted implements

The majority of the light for implements comes from the tractor. There are not as many lighting options for implements because “lights on implements are not practical,” explains Paul Sparenberg, product marketing specialist for AGCO Challenger tractors. “The lights would get damaged easily because they would bounce on the ground.”

Arntson of John Deere adds that implement lights are not normally used for fieldwork but are more common to aid the operator in making adjustments, such as refilling.

John Deere can install optional halogen lighting on most of its large implements. Case IH features five halogen lights on its air-seeding systems and will eventually offer optional HID lights. New Holland offers a headlight on its air seeder carts to allow the operator to see the filling process.

Equipment manufacturers agree that customers have asked for a greater number of lights over the past 5 to 10 years. “The biggest change in lighting has been the number of factory-installed lights,” says New Holland's Falk. “Previously, owners had to install their own lights to satisfy requirements.”