Rooted in the heartland: the heart of agricultural innovation

There is a certain nostalgia in the air that reminds Josh Beetz why he’s proud to be a farmer: “I love the smell of spring in the morning. It just makes me want to get outside and work.”

For fifth-generation farmer Peter Pratt, it’s the culture of community that keeps him going. “Everybody looks out for everyone, no matter who you are,” he said. “That’s what makes what we do so special.”

One thing is certain. Throughout history, the success of our nation’s farming industry has been built on the raw characteristics of grit and passion – on its people. But just as the seasons change, so do the seasons of the agricultural business. The ever-changing nature of one of our country’s oldest professions continues to reveal unprecedented ambiguity for those who live to roll up their sleeves in the field.

Risky business

The challenge for farmers today is not the long hours or the physical labor — it’s the uncertainty.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to predict input supplies, cost, what’s happening in the export market, renewable fuel standards or even weather,” said Pratt. “Every day is like a black swan event.”

For Beetz, the pressure to provide for his family only adds to the risk. “I have a big family, so the older I get the more I worry about stability for them,” he shared.

Both farmers rely heavily on their equipment to weather the changes with them, from the topsoil to the technology. Return on enormous investments into the latest models year after year is only realized when those systems evolve with the operator’s needs. In a world constantly redefining the intersection of technology and talent, man, and machine, the city of Mendota is home to a company that remains focused on finding the right balance.

rooted in the heartland: Small town, big ideas

The mission of Mendota, a small Midwestern city located in northern Illinois, is to revere the past and find hope in the future — a familiar sentiment for local company, HCC, Inc., a leading manufacturer in agricultural harvesting equipment for more than 100 years.

The unassuming town with a population of just 7,000 is named after the American Indian word meaning “crossing of trails,” a fitting title for a place that finds itself at an important crossroad of innovation. Early settlers welcomed the railroad in 1853 and took advantage of this cutting-edge tool to transport agricultural equipment and resources more efficiently to the area.

Today, embracing the same forward-thinking mindset that drove regional development more than a century ago, HCC, Inc. is responsible for over 80 patented inventions that have transformed the agricultural industry, including the first commercial grain weigher, the H.D. Hume pickup reel and the floating cutter bar.

Accelerating autonomy

HCC Inc.’s latest invention, SieveSense™: Autonomous Louver Positioning, is a hyper-accurate louver position sensor that enables automatic cleaning shoe adjustments to maximize harvest efficiency by utilizing closed-loop sensing technology to account for variable crop conditions. Requiring no involvement by the operator, the small part is proving to make a big impact on the way farmers work.

With the increasing cost of machine operation, every second in the field matters. SieveSense™ allows the equipment to autonomously account for terrain, crop condition, shoe shake and other variables a farmer would otherwise be unable to detect that may impact the cleaning shoe louver position. The result? Increased productivity and profitability.

“With more control over grain cleaning in the back, I could probably increase my typical ground speed of 3.2 miles per hour by half a mile. Over just one 12-hour day with two machines, the ability to move at a faster speed saves me almost a full day of time,” explained Pratt. “SieveSense™ provides a level of certainty in our work that we didn’t have before. The more data I can get that is accurate and relevant, the better I can be at my job.”

SieveSense™ also utilizes an internal accelerometer to monitor overall system health and flag irregularities, eliminating the potential for expensive repairs and unwanted downtime. And with multi-season, vigorous lab and field testing complete, SieveSense™ has proven to remain reliable even in the harshest farming environments.

For Beetz, who feels most fulfilled by the long working hours of his trade, it’s an emotional transformation that impacts endurance. He finds comfort in having a new set of eyes on the back of his machine that eliminates the guessing game.

“This new technology gives me peace of mind because I no longer have to guess, I just know,” Beetz said.

Unlocking the unknown

For farmers like Beetz and Pratt, their families are their business. The simplicity of the SieveSense™ technology breaks down generational divides in skill and knowledge and highlights the power that comes from enabling people and machines to work together.

“You can’t make good decisions without good information, and SieveSense™ opens the door for us to keep advancing and finding smarter ways to do our job,” said Pratt.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that the heart of agriculture will continue to rest in our farmers while the innovators of the heartland will not rest in their pursuit to support them.

“This story is especially great for Mendota,” said Beetz. “I love living in town, knowing that the parts I work with every day and these new ideas are made right here in my backyard.”