The iconic image of a farmer engulfed by massive dust storms defines the western part of the nation for many Americans. For decades—possibly centuries—this is what farming looked like. And it may be soon part of America's past.
One day, farmers will no longer be obligated to manually drive tractors through miles of fields. Instead, driverless tractors will farm land for them, saving the farmer money on employment and allowing him to focus on other tasks.
The main issue companies face when developing these tractors is precision. Farmers need to plant rows of corn, wheat or soybean within inches of each other. Their tractors must be able to make quick u-turns and ensure every part of the field is worked. Unused field means lost dollars.
While this technology seems like something you'd see only on the Sci-Fi channel, aspects of it are already being incorporated into current farming. According to Ian Beecher-Jones, about 60 percent of Britain's farmlands are now being cultivated with sensor systems, cameras, drones, microphones and virtual field maps. These aren't your great grandfather's plows. A 2012 Defra report found that 22 percent of farmers use GPS systems. Twenty percent map the soil and 16 percent do variable rate applications. These numbers will only rise in the future.
"I think that in 10 years we will look back at today and think that we were dinosaurs in our methods," said Professor Simon Blackmore, the head of engineering at Harper Adams University in Shropshire.
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