It has long been my expectation that farming would become a sector where robotic machinery would become a major element of operations.
Talk to producers and one of the major issues they face is finding reliable staff.
Operating field machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars require employees to be well-trained, and that training means good wages are required.
The problem for farmers is that the staff needs are focused from spring seeding through fall harvest. Good employees want full-time careers, and that doesn’t fit the reality of farms particularly well.
But years ago I listened to a speaker who foresaw robotic machinery on the common farm.
We have seen that trend starting of course.
Combines are now able to roll down a swath guided by global positioning technology, the operator a gauge watcher.
The grain cart rolls up to take the grain, and operation is taken over by the combine in what is pretty clearly a robotic link.
When it comes to spraying variable rate application across a field it is achieved by computer control.
It only makes sense that tractors will evolve to be fully robotic. Detailed field mapping and GPS certainly provides the grid for a robot tractor to follow, so a unit without a driver is nearly an expected step.
Even concerns over system troubles not being caught without an operator has faded as many new units have monitors which auto-shutdown units when mechanical issues arise.
So the eve of robotic tractors is upon us.
This summer Case IH showed off a 400-horespower robotic magnum tractor.
Sister company New Holland did the same.
The two machines are a first in the sense of major lines ready to offer a big horsepower robotic tractor to the general producer.
The benefits are obvious, starting with not needing an operator. With no operator needed, the potential to run a unit, at least for processes such as cultivation and seeding, 24-hours a day. Every producer will see that as a major opportunity to carry out operations over large acres in the time sensitive seasons of farming.
What will come next?
The likelihood of a fully autonomous combine seems likely. It may be harder to convince producers based on the variables of harvest, but distance monitoring of gauges for multiple units by a single-desk operator will be the future.
Just as drivers are awaiting the arrival of fully autonomous cars taking us to work and the movies, farmers are on the cusp of robots ruling the fields.
It is a future I have expected which draws ever nearer.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.