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Computer Model to Develop Tools for Soil Tillage

11 January 2012
Aarhus University

DENMARK - A industrial postdoc project that is a joint endeavour of Aarhus University and the machine manufacturer Kongskilde A/S is to pave the way for more energy-efficient field work and increased productivity in crop production.

When farmers drive in the fields with their tools there is an interaction between the soil and the tools. But we have very limited knowledge about what exactly happens.

A new commercial postdoc project, with financing from the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, will attempt to remedy that.

"We are very short of scientific material that the machine manufacturers can utilise for the development of new tools. The development of soil tillage tools is currently largely based on personal assessments, experience and beliefs," explains Tavs Nyord, scientist at Aarhus University, who is behind the new research project.

With the need for soil productivity to significantly increase in order meet the requirement for food, which has been estimated by the FAO to increase by 80 per cent by the year 2050, it is extremely important that all processes in the food production chain are optimised. An improvement in the soil tillage tools is an important contribution to ensure an increased production.

Development of a computer model

Tavs Nyord explains that the project aims to develop new energy-efficient – and in the long term more intelligent – soil tillage tools that are able to adapt to actual conditions in the field and thus improve the quality of soil tillage. This will be done by developing a so-called Discrete Element Modelling system (a model that can simulate all the forces acting on solid materials), which is able to predict the power input required for a given tool operating in a given soil, and the movement of the soil around a tool.

"With such a model it will far easier for us to design soil tillage tools that are more energy-efficient and will till the soil the way we want it. In the future we hope that this knowledge can form the basis for the development of the next generation of soil tillage tools," explains Tavs Nyord.

For the manufacturers of soil tillage tools there are also obvious advantages with the project. The development of new tools is a very costly affair.

"The development of a computer model that can predict the forces and the movement of the soil in soil tillage will fulfil a large need for us and for other manufacturers of agricultural machinery as we will be able to develop better tools and moving parts at lower cost, and the understanding of the interaction of the tool metal and soil aggregates will also be much improved," explains Anker Glerup, product manager at Kongskilde and mentor in the project.

The project ”New design tool for the development of energy-efficient and intelligent soil tillage tools” is a two-year commercial postdoc project and is expected to start 1 April 2012. The total budget is 1.6 million DKK, of which the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation contributes 50 per cent.

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