Volvo has built self-steering trucks that are providing a boost in productivity to sugar cane farms in Brazil. The trucks are used to collect the crops from the fields in tandem with a harvester.

Usually on Brazilian sugar cane farms, about 4% of the crop is lost through trucks and tractors running over young crops. However, Volvo Trucks is attempting to remedy this through automated steering – with maps of the plantation lines uploaded onto the truck which then avoids the lines with precision.

The system uses GPS data, and two “highly sensitive” gyroscopes – which ensure that the full vehicle, and not just the front wheels, is completely in-line and accurate (within 25mm laterally of the set course).

Keeping straight to the lines manually over a sustained period of time is recognised as a challenge for operators (as any seasoned silage tractor driver will know). However, with the self-steer set-up, the driver just has to accelerate and brake to keep up with the harvester.

According to Volvo, the self-steering innovation can improve sugar cane harvest intakes by up to 10t/ha annually, with tests proving to be a success. In addition, soil compaction is reduced.

The tests were carried out in Marina, situated west of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on the plantations of the Usina Santa Terezinha Group.

Wilson Lirmann, President of Volvo Group Latin America, explained: “With this solution we will soon be able to significantly increase the productivity of our customers in the sugar cane industry.

At the same time, we will improve their drivers’ working conditions and safety. This, in turn, will make the job more appealing, and make it easier to recruit and maintain drivers.

Volvo has released a statement saying that the successful research project will be progressed to the product development phase where more field-tests will be carried out over the summer. It is expected to be made available commercially “in the foreseeable future”.

In the present, this year Volvo is offering a GPS-based map-reading system to existing VM lorry customers in the Brazilian sugar cane industry for enhanced accuracy – though the steering will have to be done manually (for now).

Could this technology make life easier for beleaguered tractor and trailer drivers in silage crews here in Ireland?