The John Deere Autonomous Tractor Will Help Farmers Focus on Feeding the World More Efficiently

Last year at CES, John Deere showcased how technology and sustainability drive modern farming, but this year they took things to a whole new level. Building upon 20 years of self-driving technology that still required a farmer to supervise what was happening from the tractor, the John Deere Autonomous Tractor is now a reality. This futuristic tractor will not require human supervision in the cab, freeing up time and helping farmers work more efficiently.

According to Global Agriculture, there are more than 570 million farms in the world; more than 90% of those farms are run by an individual or a family, and they rely primarily on family labor. Now consider that family farms produce about 80% of the world’s food and that there are 7.753 billion people in the world.

Imagine that you are a family farmer; you own or lease land from which you are growing food and fiber for the world’s growing population.

You have a certain number of acres that you have to plant, treat, and harvest every year; you constantly have to make plans, taking into consideration changing weather conditions, climate change, variations in soil quality, and the presence of weeds and pests. You also have to manage seasonal workers, when you are lucky enough to find them.

All of these factors impact your ability to farm during the most critical times of the year.

On top of that, money is almost always an issue; it seems to fly out the door as quickly as it comes in due to land payments, equipment payments, buying seed and fertilizer, buying insecticide to keep your crops from being devoured, buying herbicides to keep the weeds out. Then there is the payroll that needs to be made, living expenses for yourself and your family; it all adds up.

As the family farmer, you are responsible for and must manage everything. If you make a miscalculation in planting or get the timing off on anything that needs to be done, it can mean the difference between a profitable year, a year where you at least break even, or a year that puts you in the red.

It’s fair to say that you have a lot of stressors coming at you from every direction.

For you, downtime is often just wishful thinking, as your vocation is truly 24/7. During certain parts of the growing and harvest cycle, you wouldn’t be blamed for entertaining daydreams about having a clone; you really need to be in two places at the same time, and there are only so many hours in the day.

It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? But if the farmers aren’t able to do their jobs efficiently, if they don’t have the tools that can give them the best chance of success, the rest of the population suffers for it.

That’s why John Deere and their commitment to ensuring farmers’ success is so important.

Knowing that during planting season, farmers can spend as much as 20 – 24 hours in a tractor’s cab during a plant, John Deere developed their auto-steer technology 20 years ago. Instead of manually driving a tractor for hours on end, trying to stay in a row without running over a plant or into another row, their tractors could steer themselves down the rows perfectly.

With the power of GPS and all of the automation that John Deere has brought to farmers, last year at CES John Deere displayed technology that is smart enough that when a tractor comes to the end of a row, it will automatically slow down, turn off the putting of seeds into the ground, lift the planter from the ground, and then turn the tractor and planter without running over any of the other rows.

The tractor would then automatically line itself into a new row, put the planter back down on the ground, start dispensing seeds again, and then speed back up to 10mph … all done automatically! But the (minor) catch was that someone still had to be in the tractor cab as this was going on.

This year, John Deere has taken their auto-steer and auto-turning technology to the next level with their introduction of a fully autonomous tractor. As in, no driver is required whatsoever.

john deere autonomous tractor

The John Deere Autonomous Tractor system combines an 8R Tractor, a TruSet-enabled chisel plow, a GPS guidance system, and new advanced technologies so that farmers can be more efficient in their harvest duties, which is one of the most stressful times for farmers.

During the fall harvest, a farmer’s focus must be on gathering their crops as efficiently as possible and making sure that these crops are protected until they can be transported for sale. Concurrent with harvesting, they also have to till the fields so that leftover plant-based nutrients from their harvest are put back into the soil to ensure a successful crop the following year.

With skilled labor being so hard to find and time being of the essence, the John Deere Autonomous Tractor can step in and ease the tillage pressure on the farmer. After harvesting their field, the farmer can activate the tractor, and it will handle the tillage job for them.

Each John Deere Autonomous Tractor has six pairs of stereo cameras that create a 360-degree view so the tractor can always see what’s going on in the field. With the tractor set for autonomous operation, the tractor is continuously checking its position relative to a geofence, ensuring it is operating where it is supposed to, with accuracy within less than 1″.

The John Deere Autonomous Tractor will only plow in the area where it’s needed, and the farmer does not even need to be there. Instead, the farmer can leave the field to focus on other harvest tasks while monitoring, controlling, and instructing the tractor from an app on their phone when needed.

John Deere Autonomous Tractor

Inside the cab of the John Deere Autonomous Tractor.

This means that as farm demand increases and labor resources are scarce, farmers can have the John Deere Autonomous Tractor working one field while the more hands-on work can be done by other workers, with the farmer monitoring the tractor from anywhere via the phone app.

The mobile app further allows the farmer to see live video and images; they can make speed adjustments and other changes on the fly based on what they see through the cameras and other feedback, which can further improve the efficiency provided by the autonomous tractor!

John Deere Autonomous Tractor

The green camera pos on the front of the John Deere 8R tractor provides a 180-degree view.

Think about it; this can only relieve some of the stress on the world’s farmers, which will also give them a better quality of life so they can continue providing us with the food and fiber that we need and can’t grow ourselves.

John Deere Autonomous Tractor

This camera pod on the back of the John Deere 8R tractor also provides a 180-degree view.

Unlike other farm implements that are traditionally leased or purchased, the John Deere Autonomous Tractor might use a different market plan that is still being worked out. For instance, a farmer might pay to use this specific tractor and technology on a certain number of acres when it’s specifically needed; if you already own a John Deere 8R, it might be possible to pay for the retrofitted upgrade.

Several dozens of these John Deere Autonomous Tractors are being produced with harvest tillage specifically in mind. In the next few years, more farming duties will eventually be handled this way.

The John Deere Autonomous Tractor Will Help Farmers Focus on Feeding the World More Efficiently

Here’s Michael Josh from GadgetMatch taking a look at the John Deere Autonomous Tractor in Vegas.

If you would like to get an augmented reality tour of this tractor, scan the QR code below.

Scan for a VR experience with the John Deere Autonomous Tractor

You can learn more about the John Deere Autonomous Tractor here.

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.