(Las Vegas, NV) - John Deere is coming out with a fully autonomous precision tractor available for sale to farmers beginning later this year.
The 40,000-pound Deere 8R tractor running continuously until it needs more fuel every 8 to 10 hours is ready for large-scale commercial production, officials with the company revealed January 5 during the annual Consumers Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“The tractor always knows where it is and where it has authorization to be,” said Willy Pell, Vice-President of Autonomy and New Ventures for the Moline, Illinois-based company founded in 1837.
Billed as the next revolution in agriculture, the tractor uses sensors and other technology not only to drive itself but place seeds at precisely the same distance apart to maximize the potential of each plant, said Jorge Heraud, Vice-President of Automation and Autonomy for John Deere.
Heraud said other tractor features include sprayers equipped with cameras that can distinguish crops from weeds and apply weed killer just where it’s needed.
“We can save about 80-percent of the amount a farmer would regularly use,” he said. The tractor can also be used for more precise tilling and harvesting.
The autonomous machine billed as user-friendly can be placed on the field and started with a straightforward left-to-right swipe of a cell phone screen.
Farmers can then leave and use their cell phones, laptops, or computers tied into the John Deere Operations Center to ensure the tractor is operating where it’s supposed to and doing the task effectively.
Time is then freed up for farmers to take care of other work-related responsibilities or enjoy their families and other forms of leisure.
According to company officials, cell phones and other devices can also be used to change the speed at which the tractor is traveling. In addition, Pell said the tractors as they’re operating also collect data farmers can review during the off-season and use for better decision-making for higher yields the following year.
“These machines are recording data about every individual seed and plant in the field. Every single pass this tractor makes matters. It’s recording and creating a digital footprint of the farm,” he said.
Farmers will also be notified about any breakdowns in the health or performance of the machine.
Deanna Kovar, Vice-President of Production and Precision Agriculture for John Deere, said automation is becoming increasingly critical to maximizing yields because of workforce shortages on farms that can reduce efficiency and quality of work.
The average age of a farmer being over 55 magnifies the difficulties from a workforce stretched too thin that the tractor can help solve.
“To grow a healthy, abundant crop many of the jobs on the farm need to be done in a very specific time window during a season, and given the lack of labor in many years there’s simply not enough hours in a day for everything to get done to get the most out of the land,” she said.
Kovar said the automated tractor can also detect soil types and changes in elevation to automatically make any necessary adjustments for maintaining high performance no matter the task.
“I like to think of this autonomous 8R tractor as one giant robot,” she said.
Kovar said the autonomous tractor is also a solution for maximizing the health of crops in a changing climate to feed the population of a world projected to grow from about 8 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050.
She said more autonomy on the farm is also key to feeding the world because of other hurdles like continued labor shortages anticipated from fewer people choosing agriculture as a career.
“Autonomy is not a convenience on the farm. It’s a necessity to get the jobs done today and into the future,” Kovar said.