Professional Farmer: Cattle and Crops

Although “Professional Farmer: Cattle and Crops is the DCS World of farming games” isn’t a perfect analogy, it contains more grains of truth than chaff of fallacy. Both sims offer realism unavailable elsewhere, both come with cosy clickable cockpits and advanced autopilots, and both demand patience and application from eager neophytes. Twelve of the twenty hours I’ve spent with PFCC so far have been spent completing tutorials, and I’m still only three quarters of the way through the 54-module curriculum.

If the interactive instructions sessions were tedious or confusing and I couldn’t picture myself in a happy, long-term relationship with Masterbrain Bytes’ £15 sodbusting sim, I’d have dropped out of virtual agricultural college long ago. It’s because the lads from Bremen have crafted their educational programme with care, and seem to want from a farming recreation roughly what I want (Mother Nature front and centre, truthful tractors, and competent farmhands) that I’m determined to stay the course.

Animal might precede vegetable in the game’s embellished-in-September moniker, but currently it’s the arable side of things that effortlessly steals the county show. Whereas the single form of livestock on offer – beef cattle – needs nothing but ample supplies of grass or silage to grow, the five crop types – barley, wheat, rye, maize, and grass – require an engrossing mix of hard, timely toil and agronomical acumen in order to realise their full potential.

The cereals that green and gold the lone Deutsch map (A second lumpier venue is in the works) aren’t just sensitive to season-linked sunlight, temperature, and moisture levels, their growth rates are determined by deeply simmed soil science. In addition to modelling 31 soil types and tracking three nutrients – nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium – PFCC considers the consistency and density of the growing medium when doing its botanical sums.

Preparing a field for sowing involves spreading the right fertiliser or fertiliser combination (there are nine granulated and three wet options) for the plot and crop, and ploughing or harrowing in such a way that the three uppermost layers of brown stuff (crumb, upper soil, lower soil) are left neither too loose or tightly packed.

Need to thoroughly ruffle seriously compacted hectarage? Use a long-tined Lemken Labrador. Don’t wish to go quite that deep or maim quite so many worms? Buy or hire a Koeckerling Rebell Classic. Simply out to break up the clods disfiguring an otherwise perfect tilth? Go with the Lemken Korund would be my advice.

The screenshot above illustrates just how sophisticated the soil modelling is. The light strip along field 23’s northern edge shows the impact of ploughing on upper dirt density. Below it, the little circle indicates not the site of an Iron Age roundhouse, but what happens when a hooligan in a Deutz Fahr 7250 does doughnuts for a few minutes for test purposes. Unless I engage in some remedial tillage, plants seeded in the dark area of the compacted ring won’t flourish the way specimens growing elsewhere in the field will.

Farming Simulator 19’s Precision Farming mod has done wonders for its earthenticity, but Cattle and Crops leads the field when it comes to soil subtlety.

The relatively obscure pretender also boasts the superior plough pullers. Clickable cabs, manual gears, intricate posteriors and handling much closer to Spintires than Grand Theft Auto give the quartet of tractors decorating my screenshots character and authority their FS19 equivalents lack. I wish I could say the Claas Arion 530, Claas Axion 940, Deutz Fahr 7250 and Mercedes-Benz Trac sound as good as they look.

Fancier farming aids and an excellent GUI mean PFCC machines are, in some respects, easier to operate than FS ones too. Activate the game’s universal Field Guidance System and, assuming you’ve configured it correctly for the implement you’re using and the field you’re working, an onboard satellite-consulting CPU will keep your passes perfectly parallel.

Pure fantasy but just as useful is the long-distance autopilot facility. Right-clicking anywhere on the map creates an intelligent road-utilising route that a vehicle will automatically follow while you enjoy the view, fiddle with the radio, or cram calories into your pasty-hole.

PFCC’s ultimate agricultural aids are its employees. Via the weather forecast incorporating calendar, hired hands can be assigned complex tasks days, weeks, even months in advance. Field work, harvesting, transport runs… anything a sentient sodbuster can do, folk like Kemal and Anastasia can handle too.

They’re bright enough to collect equipment before a job and return it to the farmyard afterwards. They’re happy to buy and sell at the various FS-style facilities on the map. They’ll even jam on their brakes and honk their horns if the suicidal farmyard dog or cat wanders into their path. On the rare occasions a thoughtlessly deposited piece of kit or a headland tree befuddles their pathfinding routines, an instant distress call notifies you of the issue. Tab-ing to the stuck vehicle then manually steering it out of trouble usually takes seconds.

Some sociable simmers would, I’m sure, prefer to farm with friends rather than rely on capable silicon staff. Multiplayer is on Masterbrain Bytes’ somewhat barren roadmap but the lack of a date suggests it may be some way off.

Whether PFCC will ever boast equipment showrooms, seed catalogues, and livestock markets anywhere near as colourful as Farming Simulator’s is an intriguing question.

Although modding is possible (the Scorpion above is an example) the selection of free user-made add-ons available at present is dominated by equipment and is relatively dinky considering the sim spent several years in Early Access before last October’s release. Want to farm in the UK or USA, keep pigs or grow spuds, take a chainsaw to a few of the trees hampering your harvester? Prepare for disappointment.

Personally, I can live without favourite tractors, familiar surroundings, forestry, and farm design. What I would like to see before the year is out is new crop options (oats, rapeseed, and sunflowers have been talked about) and changes that make maximising yields of existing ones even more challenging. I reckon Professional Farmer: Cattle and Crop’s superb arable side needs weeds, diseases, and pests, and the return of the splendid puddles that, in early builds, dotted soggy fields after heavy rain, to feel truly complete.

7 Comments

  1. As somebody who has worked in both high tech agriculture and aviation, I’m glad to see actual simulation come to farming Sims. The amount of science and technology that goes into the perfect yield is incredible. Variable rate drilling (for soil compaction etc), variable rate spreading (matching inputs to requirement ie. Nitrogen), autosection control on sprayers, controlled traffic, yield mapping etc, is extremely interesting and a bloody good basis for a fun and engaging simulation.

    Definitely prefer flying though, both for real and on the computer!

    Can you guess who I am Tim?

  2. Good guess but I think we all know James May would use “Capt. Slow” pseudonym. Someone should introduce James May to THC – he would be most welcome!

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