Will farmers dig Deere’s new autonomous tractor?

Savannah Maher Jan 5, 2022
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Front cameras on John Deere's fully autonomous tractor are shown ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 4. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Will farmers dig Deere’s new autonomous tractor?

Savannah Maher Jan 5, 2022
Heard on:
Front cameras on John Deere's fully autonomous tractor are shown ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 4. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
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The annual Consumer Electronics Show is underway in Las Vegas, excluding a bunch of big names, including Amazon and Google — COVID-19 caused them to stay home.

Alongside the new humanoid robots and electric vehicles being unveiled is a big ol’ tractor from John Deere. We know what you’re thinking: A tractor at CES? Really?

Yes, because it can be operated without a farmer. It’s Deere’s first fully autonomous tractor.

Tractors that steer themselves have been on the market for a while. One thing that sets this new machine apart is that it comes from John Deere, a traditional farm equipment company. This tractor can till a field with no one in the driver’s seat, according to Julian Sanchez, John Deere’s director of emerging technology.

“Essentially, you sort of put it out in the field, put it in autonomous mode and only worry about it when the job is done,” he said. Sanchez said Deere’s tractor will save farmers time and help address a major threat to the industry. “It’s basically a relief of labor pressure.”

Even before the pandemic, agricultural workers were hard to come by. Part of the reason for that is declining populations in rural areas, said Denise Reeser, a farm management instructor at South Central College in Minnesota.

“We do see younger generations wanting to move to where they’re maybe getting a better wage, more opportunities, other perks of living in a metropolitan area,” Reeser said.

AI could eventually help fill that gap. The challenge will be convincing farmers to adopt it, said Michigan State researcher Bruno Basso.

“The complexity in agriculture is the conservative mentality of the sector,” Basso said.

He said farmers will need to be convinced that autonomous tractors are worth it: “When a technology becomes available, they want to be sure that that cost brings a return on investment.”

Even without the latest tech, John Deere’s tractors can run $500,000.

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