In our most recent Technology Corner segment, we posed the question of whether ag equipment manufacturers will face the same workforce and production dilemmas as the auto industry, as engineers refine electronic and autonomous machinery.
There is momentum in both industries for commercializing automated and more eco-friendly vehicles, but there are also some questions as to the demand for such machinery — especially in the ag industry.
Tesla grabs a lot of headlines for its progressive development of next generation autos and other major manufacturers continue to invest in autonomy and electrification of cars. I know a few people who have purchased Teslas and they swear by the design and performance.
So can we expect the same satisfaction from farmers who climb into the cab of an electric tractor or remotely monitor each pass of an autonomous implement? Perhaps, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Visiting with a younger Wisconsin corn and soybean farmer recently, he all but dismissed the idea that he’d ever be comfortable controlling his tractor from anywhere but inside the cab.
“I could drive that thing from somewhere else, but I wouldn’t see what's going on with the planter unless I’m watching it on video,” the farmer says. “If that’s the case, I might as well sit in the cab, because I’m not going to want to just watch a video of my corn getting planted.”
Ag manufacturers have conducted field demonstrations and showcased prototypes of electric and autonomous vehicles, so we’re getting closer to commercial production.
But as ag attorney Todd Janzen notes, farmer interest will influence the adoption of autonomous and electric equipment. “I don’t hear farmers clamoring for that sort of technology just yet, because they can cover so much ground with the equipment they’ve already got that only takes one operator,” Janzen says. “But, I think we’ll see autonomous equipment be attractive in some of the more labor-intensive cropping systems.”
Janzen adds that as is the case with any technology, as it matures, it could become more affordable and attractive to farmers.