Among the more newsworthy announcements at the 2016 Farm Progress Show in Boone, IA, was the introduction of the ‘autonomous tractor.’ This ‘driverless tractor’ (so-described in the popular media) affirms what most every farmer already knows: productivity-enhancing technologies like GPS and telematics (and soon artificial intelligence) is transforming production for all but the niche segment. Now the autonomous control is baked-in! CNH Industrial, parent of Case and New Holland, will offer two versions: one with a traditional cab and one that dispenses with it completely – the latter a not-too-subtle reminder that human labor has been continually displaced by technology in agriculture production for most of the last century. Much more in the CNH media kit!
We’ve seen industry after industry ‘disrupted’ by the introduction of new technologies, with automation in particular making great inroads. Farm yields, of course, have long benefited from the substitution of machine for human labor. But did we expect to see machines driving tractors so soon? With actual ‘farmers’ out of the mix, will farming one day be reduced only to administration and management tasks?
In days past, when Fords were entirely mechanical. A rough-running tractor was felt in the seat of the pants. It invited a climb-down to check the usual suspects: carb adjustments, timing, dirty plugs. We diagnosed and repaired mostly by ear. Today life is much more complicated for owners of modern tractors.