Three of four farmers on a Midwest panel at the Raven Industry Summit last week said they really didn't see autonomous tractors that drive themselves in their future in the next 20 years.
However, one young South Dakota farmer, Keith Alverson says he could see the potential in their operation. He and his family still ridge -till, a practice that works well for them. Especially in their area, ridge-till precludes using very wide equipment. So instead of a 24-row planter, for example, they run three eight-row planters, and three cultivators when that time comes. Cultivating and making a ridge remains a key part of the ridge till system.
While another farmer joked that if he would use an autonomous tractor for anything it might be cultivating, since it's a boring job, Alverson was serious about the idea.
"I could see perhaps down the road being in the field on one unit and having two drones out there with me," he says; "That would eliminate labor needs."
Even Alverson agrees, however, that it would be hard to take the human touch completely out of field work. There are things that of yet can't be programmed in, such as stopping to unwind weeds that have wrapped around a residue wheel. There are other situations where someone may need to be present to tell the machine what to do, he believes. However, the drone concept, with the farmer still present in the field, has some appeal, he notes.
Kinze Manufacturing raised eyebrows a year ago when they introduced a tractor that could take a grain cart to a combine by itself. The same tractor can also plant by itself, at least under test conditions.