Bringing in the harvest: load cells on the farm

Published On: September 18 2018


Many of us have a fascination with big farm machinery that bring out the awe-struck child in all of us. (Even when we’re stuck behind one on a narrow Hampshire lane!). We look at the role of the humble load cells used in a wide variety of machinery in farming, helping our British farmers make the most of their time and resources.

Tilling and drilling

In an article in Farming Weekly, farmer David Bird explains how his no-till drill system allows him to preserve the ecosystem of his soil with minimal disturbance to the vital earthworm population. He uses cover and companion crops to retain nutrients in the soil and suppress weed growth. So, his seed drilling machinery needs to be able to work its way through the existing cover planting and pop the next crop’s seed into the best position possible.

This involves using a Cross Slot disc and knife opener, that slices an inverted T-shaped slot into the ground. It’s important that the seed depth is consistent, but with the drill used weighing in at a mighty 9.5t, this can be a challenge. As Mr Bird explains:

“Cross Slot’s optional auto-downforce system to ensure even seed placement. A load cell on the rear row of coulters monitors downforce on the depth/closing wheels and alters the hydraulic pressure in the coulter carriage rams accordingly, so the discs cut into the ground at a consistent depth…. Our crop establishment costs are now somewhere around £65/ha, excluding rolling, whereas the previous system (plough and harrow drill) came in closer to £150/ha.”


Hoppers and silos

Load cells are also extensively used to weigh the contents of hoppers and silos, whether filled with grain, seed or feed. For fixed silos, the load cells are positioned beneath the feet of silo. Continuous measurement records any change in weight due to extraction or addition of contents. Suspended hoppers and tanks can be weighed by measuring the force exerted on the suspension cables or fixing.

By using wireless load cells linked to a central processor, data can be collected without workers being exposed to the dusty and potentially hazardous environment of the grain shed.


Weighing in for the supermarkets

Supermarkets require conformity from the produce farmers sell to them, from the straightness of cucumbers to the weight of chickens. For poultry farmers, the ability to quickly and easily measure the weight of individual chickens is crucial. As you’ve probably seen, fresh supermarket chickens are now sold by a fixed price for a certain weight. This requires farmers to provide birds within a tolerance around a specific weight. if the birds are too light, the supermarket will deduct money from the final payment. What’s more, no extra payment will be made for birds over the desired weight.

Load cells can be used as part of a bird weighing system that ensure only one bird is weighed at a time. By placing a load cell under a platform accessed by a tunnels, farmers can ensure they can weigh each chicken individually, calculate an average weight and vary the amount of feed as required.


Livestock scales and sales

Weighing larger livestock to check their health and growth is important too. Portable weighing platforms enable farmers to take the scales to their animals, rather than moving them to a central location. By linking information gathered wirelessly via load cells with tag recognition systems, weighing can be done more quickly, efficiently and without the need for livestock to stand still for long periods. One of the secrets behind these scales are the robust, waterproof and muck-proof load cells used, so they work whatever the conditions underfoot!


Agricultural research with load cells

Load cells have been used extensively in agricultural research, including some innovative research into milking parlour teat cup liners. As one researcher said:

“While the teat of a dairy cow is robustly constructed and well adapted to shear stress, machine milking can worsen the condition of the teat and teat tissue. Therefore, it is important that the liner is very well adapted to the teat.”

Their research drew on a previous test where a team

“Measured the compressive load applied to the teat by the closed liner using an artificial teat equipped with a miniature load cell and found that the compressive load of a liner is proportional to the thickness of the liner wall.”


In udder, sorry, other words, load cells ensured just the right amount of squeeze for each cow to produce their milk.


Load cells and rice harvest

OK, not an issue for UK farmers, but the continuous measurement of rice being harvested is important for Japanese farmers. As an article explains:

“The only way to check on harvest losses in the past was to stop the combine harvester in order to get off and check the reaped field. While losses can occur due to field conditions such as crop lodging (the paddy rice falling down), the condition of the crop or field is not the only possible cause. Losses can also be due to human operation defect or poor adjustment. If information on losses can be visually grasped , even less experienced operators can track losses and reduce losses by making adjustments as they go, such as to the dust discharging valve or “clean selection” separator.”

For more details and some great display graphics, see this link


Load cells for farmers, growers, producers and researchers

Whatever types of load cells you need, call us first. We can help design and supply a variety of load cells systems for a whole variety of uses, manufactured here in the UK. Call us with your requirements.