The Hands Free Hectare team at Harper Adams has successfully harvested its second crop using its self-drive combine harvester and achieved unloading on the move for the first time with its Iseki tractor.

The world-first project, run by Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions, returned in November of last year after receiving funding from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) to grow a crop of winter wheat.

The aim of the project is improving the machinery’s accuracy and to improve field coverage, ultimately leading to a higher yield.

Mechatronics engineer for Precision Decisions, Martin Abell, said: “We’re pleased with our harvest, but our key achievement this year was completing a rolling team.”

Abell explained that last year, the team tried an unload on the move, but it wasn’t able to get the tractor close enough to the Sampo combine because of accuracy issues.

Drilling misses fell from 2.82% in the first year of the project to 0.35% this year, helping the team achieve a respectable overall yield of 6.5t/ha despite late drilling and busy schedules.

He highlighted that the team has made improvements to its system on the tractor, including adding an auto-start so team members can start it remotely if required.

The auto-pilot was improved in time for drilling this year which, according to the team, “led to improved driving accuracy and therefore increased field coverage.

We still had a little involvement with the tractor through the remote control, just to ensure it got onto the right line; but once it was there, it drove itself to within a 5cm accuracy.

“For next year, we’re putting a cover crop into the hectare. This will protect the land as we use it as a test space while we continue to improve our technology, which we haven’t been able to do while growing cereal crops in the field.”

The combine ran autonomously throughout the cutting and completed the headland turns unaided.

Abell acknowledged that over the past two years, the team has come across a number of technological challenges that it simply hadn’t the time to overcome. He concluded by adding: “This next year is a great opportunity to address them.”