Big new in small JD tractors – and GUSS
JOHN Deere has rolled out its big guns in the smaller tractor, with its new 5ML tractor making its Australian debut at a Mildura high value crop (HVC) field day in early October.
The 5ML – purpose designed and built for the orchard and vineyard industries – promises cutting-edge technology and efficiency gains.
But the star of the show might well have been the Global Unmanned Spray System – affectionately known as GUSS – which caught the eye of customers and dealers at the event.
The whole package certainly caught the eye of Haeuslers group sales manager Tom Haeusler. His family company is the face of John Deere across the Sunraysia and surrounding regions.
John Deere has staged the first field day in Australia for the new 5ML tractor.
Mr Haeusler describes the 5ML series and GUSS as a “next-generation shot in the arm” for Sunraysia, northern Victorian and southern Riverina horticulture, viticulture and tree crop industries – and labelled the 5ML series as “transformational”.
He was uber excited by the working demonstration of the GUSS, the semi-autonomous orchard and vineyard spraying technology to help horticulture producers achieve greater on-farm efficiency.
“As demand for high-value crops grows, John Deere is seeing significant opportunities to help producers be more productive while addressing the challenges, such as limited access to skilled labour to operate equipment,” Mr Haeusler added.
“The Sunraysia and surrounds are a powerhouse of Australian agricultural production – and getting bigger all the time,” he says.
“Call it what you like, food bowl, fruit bowl, even salad bowl, and you would be right – the region is all that and more.
“Haeuslers will be stocking the new range across all our network as it is cutting edge machinery which will play a key role in the Australian orchard, tree nut and vineyard industries.
“Especially as John Deere has finetuned its features to better suit Australian farming conditions.
“We reckon machinery such as this – and the amazing technology in the GUSS – will help our farmer clients be far more effective, and they will be able to get back to working on their business instead of being trapped working in it.”
The GUSS semi-autonomous sprayer was in action at the HVC Showcase in Australia.
John Deere production systems manager, Stephanie Gersekowski, says the field day was an opportunity to both demonstrate the productivity-enhancing features of the 5ML and reinforce the company’s commitment to high value cropping.
“We understand customers in this sector have really been calling for additional technology and productivity gains to support their operations and the 5ML is the perfect example of how we’re working to do that,” Ms Gersekowski says.
“We’ve been able to integrate a lot of technology that traditionally hasn’t been available in our smaller frame tractors, such as integrated AutoTrac within the dash display,” she added.
The 5ML also brings unprecedented power to John Deere’s orchard tractor offering with 105, 120 and 130-horsepower models available. With two front-axle configurations for working widths from 155cm (61 inches) and up to 180cm (71 inches) , the 5ML carries premium features at a size suited to exacting applications.
The 5ML comes equipped with programmable LED lighting, a front hitch to ensure operators can use heavier implements such as almond harvesters, and a front PTO for added versatility.
There is also the choice of an easy-to-use PowrQuad™ PLUS or Powr8™ transmission. A new Limb Lifter kit can be added to gently move away low hanging branches, reducing the potential for damage to the tree and tractor.
Production begins in November with units available in Australia by spring 2024.
“I would strongly encourage people interested in the 5ML to contact their local dealer as the first units are arriving soon for demonstration,” Ms Gersekowski says.
The HVC showcase also provided the ideal location for the first look at a GUSS operating in the field in Australia.
GUSS AuMr Haeusleration co-founder and chief operating officer, Gary Thompson, was on hand to lead the demonstration and says the driverless spraying solution was borne out of a shortage of labour in the company’s home US state of California.
“We come from an agricultural background,” Mr Thompson says.
“Our CEO started a commercial spraying business in 1982 with two tractors and grew it to become the largest commercial application company in California, and we will spray more than 2000ha every single day in our peak season,” he says.
“He’s brought in a lot of innovations over the years such as some of the industry’s first three and four-row vineyard sprayers but eventually finding tractor drivers became his number one challenge. So, he decided to do something about it.”
GUSS units use a sophisticated combination of GPS and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology, vehicle sensors, and software to move and navigate through high value crops.
In April last year, John Deere announced a joint venture with GUSS to accelerate the development and distribution of the technology and meet the needs of orchard and vineyard production.
“The whole concept was we wanted one employee to be able to supervise an entire fleet of these machines,” he says.
“As of today, we have about 240 of these autonomous sprayers out in the world and run more autonomous acres than any other company.”
Mr Thompson says with access to a reliable labour force is also becoming one of the greatest challenges facing farming not just in Australia but around the world.
He says having an autonomous asset such as GUSS is an investment in which you can directly log the long-term cost savings.
“Apart from the human cost, there is also the human factor in something such as orchard spraying. You can direct GUSS to travel at 1600m (or 1mph in my language) hour after hour, day after day – day and night,” Mr Thompson explains.
“Think how hard that can be to maintain with yourself, let alone a farm worker who might think if he goes a little faster he might get home a bit sooner, who might forget to switch off the sprayer around the headlands, or forget to switch it back on until he is five, or 10 or more metres into the next row,” he says.
“And if GUSS encounters a traffic problem, it will try and work its way around it before help is needed, and the operator can assess any action required from the excellent on-board camera coverage.”
Mr Thompson says the partnership with John Deere would allow GUSS to continue to evolve and innovate and saw great potential in John Deere’s acquisition of precision spraying company Smart Apply Inc.
"We’re looking are what kind of technologies we can add to our base machine and one of them we’re excited about is Smart Apply,” he says.
“It’s a product that uses LiDAR sensors to see the canopy of the tree or the vine and engage individual nozzles to spray where it sees foliage and turn off where it doesn’t see foliage.
“It saves a huge amount of chemical which is great for the grower and good for the environment.”
Just getting started
Stephanie says the first HVC Showcase was just the beginning for John Deere and its determination to help growers with equipment tailored to HVC production.
“In terms of future development within the HVC portfolio, and our commitment to our high value customers, I can share we will be continuing to bring solutions to market at a much more rapid pace,” she says.
“The 5ML is just the beginning and we’re excited to bring further products and technology solutions to the HVC segment over the next several years.”
New Zealand grower and Woodhaven Gardens director, Jay Clarke, was a guest speaker at the event and underscored the importance of efficiency gains in the pursuit of greater sustainability.
“Precision agriculture is one of the biggest tools in becoming more sustainable in food production systems,” he says.
“Being able to put the right product in the right place at the right time is essential to lowering our input use and still being able to produce an abundance of healthy food with a lower environmental impact.
“Without the equipment that John Deere supplies we are not able to do that.”