Agricultural machines, the innovation of automation

Harvesters, weeders, pneumatic seeders: Made in Italy companies propose increasingly precise vegetable models: reducing labour costs and guaranteeing safer, greener products 

The world agricultural machine world is growing in all major countries. The demand for new generation technologies and advanced electronic systems is on the up, with sensors playing an increasingly key role, making it possible to face up to the challenges posed by the ecological transition, climate change and optimal use of water and energy resources that are ever more valuable and to optimise consumption. The environmental compatibility of processes is more and more essential. In 2021, tractor sales in particular record 10% increases in the United States of America and 17% in Europe: driven by Italy, with a substantial +36%.

According to FederUnacoma data, the Italian Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers Federation, the value of Italian production of agricultural machinery (including components worth 3.3 billion and care for green areas for approximately 1 billion) came to 13.7 billion euros in 2021. Export demand drives Made in Italy production, for the most part in the EU (+20.5% in 2021 and + 9.7% in the first quarter of this year). In particular, Made in Italy tractors closed the year with a total of 59 thousand units produced, for a value of 2.1 billion euros (+18.7%); equipment and other types of agricultural machinery bring the value of production up to 6.2 billion euros (+19.9%). Around 30% of national production is absorbed by the domestic market. The scenario is characterised by a high demand but the rise in production costs weighs heavy, risking to slow production and also impact machinery list prices. During the first five months of the year, a downturn is recorded on the same period of 2021, not so much for a real decline in demand but rather due to the delays in the supply chain, as noted by Chairman Alessandro Malavolti.

Oliver Agro, based in Salizzole (VR), has been producing agricultural machines for 40 years. And it has been specialised in precision inter-row weeders for all crops and vegetables in particular, through to fresh-cut, since 2012, with constant expansion on both the national and international markets. “The corporate vision is to support technological progress in agriculture and this takes concrete form in a specific mission with the construction of agricultural machines to obtain organic products”, Moira Signorini, Sales Executive, explains. Over the years, acquiring international markets, Oliver Agro became increasingly specialised with continuous updates and the introduction of specific innovations. Like Optyma, a highly precise inter-plant, inter-row weeder, designed above all for products that extend and take up volume, with leaves also developing externally, like the cabbage, lettuce and chicory. Or the Colibrì system: an extremely high precision weeder, ideal for carrots or onions, aromatic herbs and all fresh-cut crops. This latter, in fact, has been designed for micro weeding at a depth of 2-2.5cm from the surface level for plants just seeded, starting from 1-2 cotyledons.  “Millimetre precision and sensitivity on the land guarantee exceptional performance that we are the only ones worldwide to offer”. The innovation is represented by the update of the electrical-hydraulic system with all-new software and an extremely sensitive self-levelling system that makes weeding possible even at the very early stages of the plant, without damaging it, with a minimum inter-row distance of 5cm in the open field and greenhouse.

Oliver Agro has developed more than 25 weeder models. The latest innovations, also launched at the major international trade fairs, include the Rotovert weeder: “It brings three machines together into one: an inter-row mechanical weeder or grass-remover; a scarifier or a top layer breaker. It is a unique characteristic in this market that looks to focus on sustainability”. The Rotovert has parallelograms that take the 2 rotors to act directly on the graft row, without damaging the roots and leaves, uprooting weeds during germination and thereby reducing the need for chemical weed removers. “Differently to the Colibri, with the Rotovert, we go in when the plant is well rooted in the ground, or in soils with a slightly stony skeleton that prevent the Colibri from obtaining excellent results”. Penetration is through to 4cm in the soil; the rotors, rotating, drive the soil surface towards the centre, breaking it up; the blades move germination of the weeds, or indeed the weeds themselves, towards the outside. The hooked shape of the rotor has been designed to prevent the plant roots from being ruined and/or cut as we pass through. The process can be carried our early, 7 days after grafting and 10 days after sowing. The best results are obtained with the machine when the weeds are in the early stages of germination, while if the weeds have already grown, the soil surface is broken up. Oliver Agro offers 2 models of parallelograms: “Es works on 25-35cm inter-rows and is best for single and dual row carrots, lettuces or similar; Tilt instead works on 13-25cm inter-rows and is ideal for single-row onions, spinach, parsley, basil, aromatic herbs and parsnips.

Since 2004 Hortech, in the area of Padua, has been designing and building machines for soil preparation, grafting and harvesting vegetable produce. The company manufactures high performance harvesters for the fresh-cut market (including electrical), as well as for tuft crops like endives. With turnover of around 10 million euros, of which 40% obtained through export, it invests heavily in research and innovation, as well as on how to reduce labour in the field.  The new Ventum machine unveiled at Fruit Logistica, Eima and silver medal at the Agritechnica Innovation Award, the Hanover trade fair, heads in this direction. It is a new generation of harvesters, a machine for collecting cuttings, baby leaf, rocket and spinach. “It is our latest major innovation” – Luca Casotto explains, Export Manager of Hortech -. “It eliminates the problem of foreign bodies and has the advantage of improving harvesting efficiency. The product is cut and run through an air tunnel, where we have a system in place to check for foreign bodies, stones, earth and other items. It then combines with automatic crate-filling and weighing. This reduces labour costs: we are removing from two to three people”.  The company is evolving continuously, also with other types of equipment. “Our technology is improving constantly as we strive to give our customers something more each time. We are currently testing for a similar machine to harvest valerian. We then also have machines for grafting and innovative electric machines such as the Slide Eco 4rs, with four-wheel drive, to harvest fresh-cut products and cuttings”.

Established in 1977 on the intuition and commitment of the two founding members, Agricola Italiana, has over the years become an international point of reference for the production of precision pneumatic seeding machines. Thanks to the rigorous, thorough level of industrial productivity and commercial organisation, the company can offer a wide range of agricultural machines for seeding on all soil types. “Each year, more than 500 agricultural machines leave our site in Massanzago (Padua) as well as countless spare parts”, he reports.  Behind each precision seeding machine is a proudly Italian company with a passionate, specialised technical team. Agricola Italiana offers a vast range of solutions with a total of 26 models for each seeding experience, for any variety of vegetables through to fresh-cut. And it also includes the line of heavy seeders for maize, soy, beet, cotton, sunflower, sorghum and rape. The company participates assiduously in the most important international trade fairs. And it invests constantly in research and innovation with the aim of improving product quality, speed of response to market requests, competitiveness and services offered. All design, production and finalisation operations aim to supply seeding machines that satisfy the individual demands of each agricultural worker.

Ortomec had been manufacturing machines to harvest tuft and leaf lettuce and seeding machines. Mechanising harvests is a target towards which the Veneto-based company has been working for years and it has developed solutions able to assist producers of leafy vegetables. The mechanisation and automation role will be increasingly essential in responding to the problem of the lack of labour. One example is the 8300 Lattuga model harvester by Ortomec, which was tested directly on the field during the demonstration days organised by Rijk Zwaan at Ced La Palma in Cartagena (Spain). “The 8300 Lattuga allows for the harvesting of a delicate product without ruining it, quickly and above all improving working conditions” Nicola Gallo stresses, Sales Manager of the Cona-based company (Venice). The machine is versatile: in addition to lettuces, it can harvest chicory, pak-choi and other similar vegetables. Products are collected in bins and the crates are managed with the customisations required according to the needs of each customer. The machine ensures the safety of the people working with it, sheltered from the sun, rain and wind without moving or lifting weights. “When designing this harvester, we took into account all aspects that could improve operator comfort. Workers can go home at night without wet feet and backs aching from fatigue”.



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