Deputy Director


Kerstin Martens
Institute of Farm Economics

Bundesallee 63
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5102
Fax: +49 531 596 5199

Autonomous agricultural machinery


Drone with camera (c) Thünen-Institut/Thomas de Witte
Drone with camera (© Thünen-Institut/Thomas de Witte)

From autonomous agricultural machines to new plant production systems

Arable farming is losing more and more social acceptance. Problems are (a) increasing soil pressure because of heavy machines, (b) the use of plant protection as well as (c) environmental pollution resulting from nitrogen fertilization. At the same time, new developments in automation can help to reduce the mentioned problems in fully automated production systems. We analyze if autonomous agricultural machines enable more sustainable plant production systems.

Background and Objective

Plant production systems basing on autonomous small machinery are competing with already existing arable farming systems and their further development to autonomous heavy machinery. We examine the chance of success of the three different systems.


We compare all three systems in view of their advantages and disadvantages in plant production, agricultural technology and economy. In order to identify the different possibilities we analyze each step of the production system for possible alternatives (that is with small autonomous machines) and for the impact of this step on the evaluation criteria.

Data and Methods

The currently used reference system in arable farming is being defined on the base of a typical farm for a chosen location in Germany. To draft scenarios for production systems with autonomous heavy and small machinery we do literature reviews and expert discussions.


For a scenario with autonomous large machines, there are no significant improvements both in terms of economy and agronomy in comparison to today's methods. In a second step, a scenario for wheat production with small autonomous agricultural machines was designed. The power requirement, the weight and the area performance of the machine concepts were derived as important parameters and evaluated economically. It turned out that the operating costs of the small machines can be at the level of today's costs. Future projects should examine which plants should be combined on the field from an agronomic point of view. From a technical and economic point of view, the optimal machine size of individual processes has to be clarified.

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Information Materials

Bühnentalk: Grüne Woche 2017


10.2014 - 10.2017

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Projekt type:
Project status: finished

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Publications to the project

Results 1 - 5 of 8

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  1. Urso L-M, Wegener JK, Hörsten D von, Kottmann L, Minßen T-F, Gaus C-C (2017) Der Pflanzenbau der Zukunft - Ist ein Neudenken erforderlich? GI Edititon Proc 268:149-152
  2. Wegener JK, Urso L-M, Hörsten D von, Minßen T-F, Gaus C-C (2017) Developing new cropping systems - which informative techniques are required? Landtechnik 72(2):91-100, DOI:10.15150/lt.2017.3156
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 368 kb
  3. Gaus C-C, Urso L-M, Minßen T-F, Witte T de (2017) Economics of mechanical weeding by a swarm of small field robots : paper prepared for poster presentation at the 57th Annual Conference of the GEWISOLA (German Association of Agricultural Economists) and the 27th Annual Conference of the ÖGA (Austrian Society of Economics) "Bridging the Gap between Ressource Efficiency and Society's Expectations in the Agricultural and Food Economy" ; Munich, Germany, September 13-15, 2017. GEWISOLA, 3 p
  4. Wegener JK, Urso L-M, Hörsten D von, Minßen T-F, Gaus C-C (2017) Neue Pflanzenbausysteme entwickeln - welche innovativen Techniken werden benötigt? Landtechnik 72(2):91-100, DOI:10.15150/lt.2017.3156
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 368 kb
  5. Minßen T-F, Gaus C-C, Urso L-M (2016) Systematische Anforderungen an ein autonomes Großtechnikszenario als zukünftiges Pflanzenbausystem. In: Ruckelshausen A, Meyer-Aurich A, Rath T (eds) Informatik in der Land-, Forst- und Ernährungswirtschaft : Fokus: Intelligente Systeme - Stand der Technik und neue Möglichkeiten ; Referate der 36. GIL-Jahrestagung, 22. und 23. Februar 2016, Osnabrück ; Proceedings. Weihenstephan: GIL, pp 129-132

Results 1 - 5 of 8

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