Advancing Alongside Ag

Cognizant of rapidly evolving farming and biomass sectors, New Holland aims to stay ahead of the game.
By Anna Simet | July 30, 2015

An example of sheer innovation over time, farmers today grow five times as much corn as they did in the 1930s, on 20 percent less land. As science and farming continue to evolve, agriculture machinery manufacturer New Holland is sure of one thing: It too, must continue to advance in order to understand and meet modern ag needs.

The company’s forward-thinking Innovations Group is charged with taking a step beyond simple advancement. “We have normal product development processes, but our innovations group is a little more wild and crazy, and puts together these outside-of-the-box concepts,” explains Mark Hooper, senior marketing director of North America. “A lot of our work in the biomass area has come out of the Innovations Group.”

Some examples are New Holland’s recently unveiled NH2 tractor, a hydrogen-powered machine in early stages of development, and the Methane Power tractor, which is already taking to a field at La Bellotta farm just outside of Turin, Italy. There, a 1-MW biogas plant generates power for the farm and grid, and a portion of the methane is converted into liquid fuel for use in the tractor. Not only is a fuel cost savings achieved, but the machines are cleaner and quieter. “They have a spark generating system and don’t have that heavy diesel engine noise,” says Gary Wojcik, brand marketing for midrange tractors. “In addition to cost savings, we expect to see cab noise levels reduced by 3 to 4 decibels—that’s what we’ve experienced in our testing.”

The NH2 is nearing the end of the innovations stage, Hooper says.  “At that point, we decide if the machine is commercially viable, and it’s moved into a normal product development cycle. If the concept proves out, we go into design and build real prototypes. It’s a great product that makes it clear the direction we’re going.”

Other products specific to the biomass energy sector that New Holland is especially excited about include its forage harvester with specialized heads, Cornrower, and a new line of round balers. “We’ve been working on the coppice header for years,” says Jarod Angstadt, manager of growth initiatives, biomass and specialty products. “We’ve got it out in production facilities around the world, that are using it to chop up willow and poplar for coburning at power plants, or other projects using the material as biofuel feedstock.”

The Cornrower, which New Holland put on the market a couple years ago, provides a unique system that works by catching stover under the stalk rolls, preventing stover from falling back into the soil, while chopping it into small pieces. Labor to windrow the stover is eliminated, since the Cornrower makes the windrow on the same pass as corn is harvested. In addition to enhancing stover quality, the Cornrower reduces fuel use, labor costs and equipment capital requirements, compared to existing corn stover harvest systems. “The benefit of that is, from a sustainability standpoint, you don’t have to take every row of stover, you can take what is needed and desired, and that’s a big benefit to the farmer as well as the biofuels plant,” says Hooper.

The aforementioned machines are examples of aspired innovation, but also required, if New Holland wishes to keep with or outpace modern farming.

In the Field
 “Today, a lot more biomass is being produced—corn stover, for example,” Hooper says. “Corn yields are going up, and there’s only so much that can be incorporated back into the soil.”
Adjusting the company’s products to handle more or new crops hasn’t been exceedingly difficult. “It’s been a natural process for us, using our hay tools to package these products—switchgrass, miscanthus and corn stover,” Hooper says.

And working with the new or soon-to-be-operating cellulosic ethanol plants has further embedded New Holland in the emerging ag-based energy sector. “We have been working with Poet-DSM now for several years, as well as the other second-generation ethanol producers,” says Angstadt. “We’ve been doing so to understand their needs—what type of equipment they have to have, the crop coming into the plant, what they’re looking for. Balers are a big piece of those projects, but tractors also come into play, as does other equipment used for material handling and getting the crop to the plant.”

“The first thing they said was they needed reduced ash content in the biomass, reduced moisture, and they needed to figure out a way to store and transport stover, because once running, the plant would need a constant supply of material—high quality, at a consistent rate,” Hooper adds. “All of the biomass gets harvested at the same time, so we worked on a plan, provided equipment and assisted in their testing in preparation to launch these facilities. It was an interesting process, and it taught us more about how to help us meet their needs.”

And the needs of bioethanol producers like Poet-DSM, other biofuel producers and farmers vary across the country, and even more so by continent.

Current and Future Landscape
 “It looks very different,” Hooper says, on the North America biomass market compared to others. “We’re involved in lots of projects around the world, but biomass for us in North America is more targeted toward corn stover and grass crops. The [U.S.] market is continuing to emerge, so we’re gearing up for that.

In other parts of the world, corn stover isn’t as significant. “Sugarcane is big, short-rotation crops, and oil crops. There are all kinds of ways different countries are looking, based on existing crops grown and what’s there,” Hooper says. “It all looks different, and that’s one of our challenges. When we look at biomass in a global setting, it [biomass] means different things to different people.”

The biggest challenge New Holland faces is staying ahead of things as the markets continue to take off and evolve, Hooper, Angstadt and Wojcik agree. “As the ag industry prepares to produce food and fuel for 9 billion people, there will be a lot of changes and advancements in plant technology,” Hooper says. “We have to figure out how to keep up and determine where our equipment needs to be—how do we harvest 300 bushel-an-acre corn and deal with all of the biomass related to that? That’s an important part of the whole process. Our products have to be progressing at the same rate as changes in plant technology.”  
What’s brought New Holland so far, and what will propel the company into the future, is its closeness to the customer, he adds. “Being able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the field with them, rolling up our sleeves and understanding what challenges they have, where they’re headed, and the efficiencies they need to get in their operations. That’s what’s driven a lot of our product development and overall strategies.”

Authors: Anna Simet
Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine