A study presented by The American Farm Bureau Federation shows that 29% of American jobs are tied to food and agriculture. Even with the recent pandemic and changes to the world economy, the industry has remained resilient to provide Americans with jobs, economic opportunity, and safe food. The report’s findings show that 7% of the nation’s economy and 29% of American jobs are linked to the food and agriculture sectors, either directly or indirectly. Amidst the global supply chain and inflation crises, these sectors also exported $182.91 billion worth of goods, helping the U.S. maintain its position as a leading player in global agriculture. In 2021 these sectors contributed a total of $3.01 trillion to the U.S. economy. In helping to continue spurring this trend in America and around the world, the agricultural industry has seen significant advancements over the years due to innovations in hydraulic equipment. Hydraulic systems make agricultural production faster and more efficient, while reducing labor costs. And hydraulic power has resulted in several advantages for agricultural machinery, which in turn has increased efficiencies, ultimately increasing the quality and reduced costs of food products.
- Hydraulic Components are vital in the operation of small farms and commercial agriculture from Iowa to Asia. They are essential in equipment that produces and harvests crops, and manages livestock. Since the introduction and enhancements to hydraulics in agriculture, farms can operate at maximum efficiency, significantly reducing downtime and costs, and strengthens productivity.
Hydraulic power is found in virtually every kind of agricultural machinery, from equipment that relies on power to move and lift heavy loads to the hydraulic circuits that support and help maintain the position of the header accumulator system on combines.
Primary agricultural equipment and machines that rely on hydraulics include:
- Of Hydraulics Machines in Agricultural mentioned above, some of the most prominent include:
Combine and forage harvesters are obviously used for harvesting. Combine harvesters reap, thresh, gather, and winnow crops in one single process, and have many moving parts that depend on hydraulics. As it is with forage harvesters that gather feedstuff for cattle. Both of these harvesters can be self-propelled. For instance, a self-propelled forage harvester includes the cab, cutterhead, kernel processor, blower, and spout all in one unit as opposed to pull-type forage harvesters, which have all of these individual implements attached to a tractor.
Crop Sprayers use multiple hydraulic pumps, cylinders, and motors in essentially every operation. They necessitate the careful selection of components and how they are used for their specific roll in operating the sprayer. Crop sprayers provide uniform spreading of agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides and more. On small farms they are usually mounted on trailers and tractors, yet on commercial farms they are high efficiency all-in-one self-propelled units, with the hydraulic components operating each aspect of the operation.
Track loaders (a.k.a. skid steers) have exceptional traction allowing them to provide powerful pushing, digging, and lifting and loading operations with minimal ground disturbance. Because of their versatility and ability to perform many functions, track loaders are one of the most popular machines in the agriculture industry. In fact, one frequent application for track loaders reported by Dairy Herd Management is for farmers to move sick cows from where they are lying to an area better suited for treatment and recovery. They are multipurpose machines, also used for earth moving, hay baling, and brush cleanup, to name a few. Using hydraulic track drive motors to produce the slow speeds and high torque necessary to drive the tracks, track loaders are one of the most versatile machines on a farm.
Tractors are universal in farming and are available in a wide range of sizes to fit any farming operation. Their primary function is to pull farm equipment and a variety of attachments to fulfill more functions on a farm than any other piece of equipment and are used on every small and large-scale farm. They are the most widely used “workhorse” of the modern farm. Where they used to be powered by hydrostatic transmissions, today they are typically driven by hydraulic drives and may incorporate a track drive motor or hydraulic wheel motor.
In addition to the equipment listed above, there are many other types of agricultural machinery and attachments that rely on hydraulic drives and transmissions to power their operations. These may include fertilizer spreaders, balers, harrows, forestry machines and many others.
The following are just a handful of well-known OEM companies that make ag equipment and attachments for loaders, combines, forage harvesters and more:
• CaseIH (formerly International Harvester)
• CNH Industrial NV
• John Deere
• New Holland
- Hydraulic Design Systems in Agriculture have to be energy efficient, easily maintainable, reliable, and easy to operate. It’s an area of equipment design in this industry that can be very challenging. Take for instance hydraulics in tractors, a machine that is often taken for granted, where a wide range of implements driven by hydraulics can be connected and towed. And these different implements and attachments are often of different brands. And many people will buy a different brand of attachment than that of their tractor.
The issue can arise when a farm’s collection of cross-branded, specialty implements are mixed and mismatched. Which is a well-known problem among tractor designers, who face problems of hydraulic systems in the field often being inefficient due to over-sizing or failure to perform adequately if under-designed for the application. Where a design engineer is trying to develop the best tractor and attachments for the market, they do not have control of what an operator will do in the field.
- The Invention of Fluid Power Hydraulics has been essential to the agricultural industry. Just as industrial hydraulics replaced mechanical equipment, so too did agricultural hydraulics replace most manual labor and work animals on the farm. All of which increased productivity and reduced injury, in both the industrial and agricultural markets. Most types of agricultural equipment need to be able to cover hundreds or thousands of acres without access to electric power. Therefore, the advent of hydraulics in agriculture has spurred the growth of an industry that is highly efficient, in both small farms and large commercial operations.
ConclusionAgricultural hydraulic systems must be multi-purposed and adapt to different conditions and requirements. The prime mover being the engine or electric motor that drives the pump is the source of power for the hydraulic system. Prime movers and input supply in hydraulics vary significantly. When a tractor’s hydraulics is used, it will be either closed center” (variable displacement pump) or “open center” (fixed displacement pump).
In hydraulic valves the terms closed center and open center indicate the center condition of a directional valve. In agricultural machinery it tells the user or designer that the valving is either pressure port blocked in neutral or pressure-to-tank in neutral. The selection of which of these systems to use affects how the hydraulics on the implement will respond. At this point, the majority of the industry has switched to closed-center, variable pump systems. However, there are still numerous old tractors in service that run on open-center, fixed pumps. That’s why designing equipment, machinery and implements for agriculture is often difficult, because it's rarely the case that one size fits all.
Learn more about hydraulics by visiting Brennan University.