← Back to Blog

CAN on the Farm - 6 Key Applications

CAN on the Farm - 6 Key Applications
CAN on the Farm - 6 Key Applications

Controller Area Network (CAN) is a networking protocol used in embedded systems. It was developed in the 80s to foster more reliable, efficient, and cost-effective communications between Electronic Control Units (ECU). CAN’s use of J1939 standards defines how ECUs send messages throughout the network. Designed for heavy-duty vehicles, J1939 allows for efficient, standardized  communication between nodes on the network. Though popular in the automotive industry, CAN has many industry applications, especially in agriculture. This article will cover six of the most popular uses for CAN on the farm.

6 Uses for CAN in Agriculture

Vehicle and Equipment Communication

Perhaps the most popular application for CAN is vehicle communication, which includes farm equipment. Using CAN, ECUs in tractors, sprayers, harvesters, and irrigation systems can communicate seamlessly. For instance, modern tractors use CAN to connect engine control units, transmission control units, hydraulic control units, and other subsystems, allowing them to exchange information and coordinate their functions. CAN also allows for simpler diagnostics and displays provide real-time data to operators.

Precision Agriculture

Precision Agriculture describes the science and processes of improving crop yields using technology. Using CAN, farming equipment can synchronize operations and minimize overlap during fieldwork. This allows agricultural businesses to use resources more efficiently, such as fertilizer, seeds, and fuel. This, in turn, helps reduce costs and increase profit margins. CAN also integrates well with GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) receivers and auto-steer systems, which provide accurate position data. The auto-steer system uses this information to guide the tractor or implement along preplanned paths. 

Using CAN, ECUs in tractors can receive real-time data to help improve efficiency, maximize resources, and more. By standardizing communication and data exchange, ECUs can adjust settings to optimize performance. Such data may include implementation status, working depth, and soil conditions. 

Telematics and Fleet Management

CAN systems utilize real-time data on vehicle performance, fuel consumption, engine diagnostics, and other parameters. The telematics unit of the vehicle interfaces with the CAN network to provide fleet managers a way to control their vehicles remotely. The telematics systems also allow fleet managers to monitor vehicles' routes, optimize dispatching, and track vehicle movement in real-time. This data can be saved remotely on the cloud for further analysis later on so that fleet managers can have a better understanding of their fleet.

Harvesting and Crop Management

CAN plays a pivotal role in refining harvesting and crop management through seamless communication between nodes in harvesters and balers. CAN facilitates data exchange between modern cutting headers, threshing mechanisms, cleaning systems, and baling components for maximized harvesting efficiency and baling quality. This real-time data helps operators monitor machine performance, crop conditions, and yield information, facilitating data-driven decisions.

CAN also integrates with yield mapping systems and crop monitoring technologies to enhance precision agriculture practices. Using yield mapping systems and GPS data, operators can create detailed maps of crop yield variability across fields. This data helps farmers to optimize strategies around fertilization and planting, as well as understand field productivity.

Livestock Monitoring and Control

CAN plays a very important role in livestock monitoring systems by enabling real-time tracking of animal health, behavior, and environmental conditions. CAN enables real-time data from numerous sensors to monitor body temperature, heart rate, activity levels, and rumination behavior. 

Environmental monitoring allows data pertaining to humidity, temperature, and ventilation to be sent to the CAN network. This helps farmers ensure optimal living conditions for their livestock, which improves the quality of their milk and meat. Most importantly, it ensures livestock is being treated humanely. The following are two examples of how this technology can be used.

Milking Parlors

CAN-enabled sensors measure milk yield, milk quality, and udder health, which is communicated to the device’s control unit. This helps improve milking efficiency by enabling milking processes that are gentle on the animals. 

Feeding Systems

Automated feeding systems offer optimized feed delivery. Data from feed sensors and weight scales are transmitted via CAN to control units that adjust feed portions based on individual animal requirements. This helps reduce wasted feed and balance nutrition.

Irrigation Systems

By connecting to soil moisture sensors and weather stations, farmers can use CAN to make data-driven decisions regarding water usage. Using strategically placed moisture sensors, farmers can monitor moisture levels in real time, and the data is transmitted to the central controller through the CAN network. Weather station data also can be sent to the CAN network. This, in turn, helps minimize water waste and ensure a healthier crop yield. CAN centralizes irrigation systems, like pumps, valves, and sprinklers. As a result, farmers can schedule irrigation events, adjust water flow rates, and activate (or deactivate) specific zones as per the crop's water requirements.


The benefits of using CAN on the farm include enhanced automation, reduced waste, and a better quality of life for livestock. Perhaps most importantly, it allows farmers to create more efficient operations while reducing costs and increasing profit margins. Here at Grid Connect, we support agriculture by producing reliable technology that helps farmers stay connected. 

Grid Connect Helps You Stay Connected

CAN FD to LAN Ethernet Gateway

Grid Connect’s CAN FD to LAN Ethernet Gateway allows you to connect Ethernet-enabled nodes to your CAN or CAN FD network. Such devices may include GPS receivers, soil moisture sensors, weather station sensors. This device allows bit rates up to 10 Mbit/s.

2 Meter CAN Cable

Equipped with a female DB9 connector on each side, the 2 Meter CAN Cable consists of stranded 24 AWG copper twisted-pair conductors for the CAN signals. Insulated in flexible polyethylene, tinned copper shield and a flame retardant violet PVC jacket, this cable meets UL-Type CMX and CSA-Type CMX specs.

Get our monthly newsletter for product and technology updates