07 Mar, 2024 / BY Neil Sharp

10 ways that electronic components are changing modern tractors

Modern tractors have changed hugely in recent years thanks to the use of electronic components. This evolution has increased agricultural productivity, efficiency and safety, all of which have clear financial benefits. Read on to find out more about some of the most important uses of electronic components in modern tractors.

Technological evolution in the agriculture sector

Since the early days of hunter-gatherers, tools and techniques have always been used to enhance farming. Examples of these include:

  1. Iron ploughs during the first agricultural revolution (Agritech 1.0)
  2. Crop rotation and steam power (Agritech 2.0)
  3. Industrial chemistry, such as fertiliser and veterinary drugs, and mechanisation, such as combine harvesters (Agritech 3.0)
  4. Internet-enabled technologies, such as satellite-controlled combine harvesters, and mega-farms controlled by data, remote technology and robotics. (Agritech 4.0)

The fifth agricultural revolution (Agritech 5.0) that’s currently underway aims to increase yields but in environmentally sustainable ways – this is where an increased use of electronic components comes in. 

More information about current developments in agricultural machinery that were showcased at the Agritechnica 2023 trade fair in Germany can be found here.)

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A (very) brief history of tractors

The first tractors originated during the late 19th century and were based on steam power. They were used to pull ploughs, which was a big improvement from using horses and oxen. Over time, these tractors were adapted to use other implements, such as cultivators, spreaders, mowers and balers. 

Towards the start of the 20th century, the development of the internal combustion engine meant that tractors became more efficient and easier to use. As a result, the “golden years” of tractors during the early and mid-20th century saw sales boom and farming production increase.

Then around the mid-to-late 20th century, technological developments further improved tractors, including innovations in hydraulic systems and power take-offs. This technology massively boosted the power of tractors and allowed them to be used for a variety of tasks.

In more recent times around the 1990s onwards, digital technologies have refined tractor systems even more. GPS systems, in particular, help to optimise farming practices by improving the accuracy of planting, fertilising and irrigation, for example.

In today’s modern world, there’s a drive towards even greater efficiencies but not at a cost to the environment – as in many other industrial sectors, there’s now a clear focus on environmental sustainability. So, how exactly are electronic components being used in modern tractors?

10 great uses of electronic components in tractors


1. Engine control unit (ECU)

The ECU is a fundamental component of the tractor because it manages and optimises the performance of the engine. This includes monitoring fuel injection, air intake and other critical engine parameters.


2. Electronic power steering (EPS) system

As with an everyday family car, the EPS greatly improves manoeuvrability of the vehicle and reduces operator fatigue. It does this by providing electronic assistance to the steering mechanism – anyone who has gone from using EPS to non-EPS will tell you that it’s very hard work!


3. Hydraulic control unit (HCU)

The HCU controls the hydraulic systems for the tractor’s implements and attachments. For example, it manages the lift, tilt and other hydraulic functions.


4. Electronically controlled hitch (ECH)

The ECH regulates the tractor’s three-point hitch system, allowing for the precise control of implements. This control means that land can be utilised fully and the wastage of crops, fertilisers and so on is kept to a minimum.


5. Throttle-by-wire system

This is an electronically controlled throttle for the engine. It allows a very high level of engine control, which helps with fuel efficiency and responsiveness.


6. Brake control module

But it’s not all about acceleration. This module manages the electronic braking systems by co-ordinating brake-force distribution. Conditions and terrain on farmland are often challenging, to say the least, and so it’s vital that a tractor can stop quickly and safely.


7. Traction control system

Another refinement in this area is the traction control system. This prevents wheel slippage in difficult conditions by optimising the traction of the vehicle. Without this, there are likely to be many tractors getting stuck in the mud.


8. Battery management system

This system monitors and manages the tractor’s electrical system, to ensure the efficient use of electrical power. As the electrification of vehicles, including tractors, continues to grow, the optimal management of batteries is only going to become more important.


9. Suspension control systems

Of course, it’s important not to forget that a human will be driving the tractor (at least until driverless tractors come fully online!). So, electronic suspension systems play a vital role in making sure that the operator is comfortable by adjusting damping based on the terrain. 

Without a good suspension system, a day working in the fields might lead to discomfort for the operator and perhaps even long-term health issues.


10. Safety systems

As well as the operator’s comfort, their safety is also paramount. Electronic stability control helps to prevent accidents, while roll-over protection systems (ROPS) are there just in case the worst does happen.

And there’s more…

Alongside the primary uses of electronic components in tractors listed above, there are also many secondary uses, such as:

  • GPS and navigation systems – enable precision farming, and support auto-steering and mapping applications
  • Telematics and connectivity modules – allow remote monitoring, diagnostics, firmware updates, and communication between the tractor and external systems
  • Climate control systems – manage air conditioning, heating and ventilation, which enhances the operator’s comfort
  • Instrument cluster and display – provide the operator with essential information, including engine parameters, fuel levels and diagnostics
  • Camera systems – for rear-view and side-view cameras, which increase visibility and therefore safety during operation
  • Entertainment and connectivity features – audio systems, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, all of which help to entertain the operator and keep them connected during long working hours
  • Remote control systems – allow for remote operation or monitoring, and support autonomous/semi-autonomous features.

Without the electronic components mentioned in this article, a tractor’s operations would be much less productive and more labour-intensive. The continuing demand to increase agricultural production – without harming the environment – as the world’s population grows means that it’s vital to use all of the technology that is available to us.

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Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.