Purdue University Graduate School
Kong Thesis V32.pdf (2.41 MB)

Analyzing the Effects of Autonomous Navigation on Row Crop Farming

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posted on 2021-08-03, 18:53 authored by Eric KongEric Kong
As the global population rises, so does the demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel. Meeting this demand has become increasingly difficult due to the decline in farm labor and challenges associated with the economic viability of agricultural systems. Autonomous agricultural machinery has the potential to mitigate some of major challenges that crop production systems will face. Widespread adoption of autonomous machinery is dependent on two key factors, the cost and environmental impact. The development and adoption of autonomous vehicles will only occur if it is profitable for equipment manufacturers and farmers. As distillate fuel use for crop production increases, fuel efficient operations that minimize greenhouse gas emissions will mitigate the environmental impact of farming.

The objective of this research was to develop a model to quantify the cost, energy use, and emissions associated with the use of agricultural machinery used for row crop farming. The model calculates the cost of different sized machinery fleets for planting and harvest. Autonomy facilitates swarm farming, and the model can quantify and compare these to human-operated machinery systems.

For an 800-hectare case study farm in the Midwest, with the acreage split evenly between corn and soybeans, the most cost-effective planting machinery fleet was comprised of two autonomous, 56-kW JD 5075E tractors pulling 4-row planters ($40/ha/yr). The most cost-effective fleet used the most fuel (4,327 liters) and produced the most emissions (219,735 grams). For a similar conventional system to complete planting during the same working window, it would require 4 tractors and cost $75/ha/yr. The $35/ha/yr difference between the similar fleets was the value added by autonomy. Current row crop farming trends have shifted towards fewer operators with larger machines and implements. The most cost-effective, single operator machinery set from the database (Case Magnum 200 with a 16-row planter) costs $43/ha/yr more than overall most cost-effective fleet. Total fuel used to complete the planting operation was minimized by using a single John Deere 8320R pulling a 36-row planter. To plant all 800-hectares, the 8320R used 2,528 liters of diesel fuel and produced a combined 44,002 grams of emissions. The JD 5075E was able to minimize cost, but it used the most fuel and produced the most greenhouse gas.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science in Agricultural and Biological Engineering


  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

John Lumkes

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

John Evans

Additional Committee Member 2

Dennis Buckmaster

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