Climbing into the cab of tractors which seem to be getting bigger and bigger with each generation of a brand has become the way of farming.
Today’s farm power sources look as much like military tanks as they do farm tractors, especially those which ride over the field on tracks rather than rubber tires.
The farm behemoths are integral to farming, or are they?
Certainly farmers need a power source to pull cultivators, seeding equipment, farm grain carts and other equipment around the field.
And the long term trend in farming has been to every larger-scale equipment.
Part of that push has come from farmers themselves who want to cover more acres per hour in the tractor seat.
And that desire has become keener as it has become more and more difficult to find farm workers. When an operator gets a worker on a tractor he wants to cover maximum acres and that means large scale.
But as farm equipment has evolved so too has the computer technology incorporated into the tractors.
Computers now monitor most operations, and with global positioning technology tractors can operate without an operator, at least in theory.
And that theory now appears about to become reality.
Autonomous Tractor Corp. (ATC) in Fargo and the Automation Research Corp. in Minneapolis have teamed to develop The Spirit Autonomous Tractor. The unit uses two diesel engines to power four electric motors, which drive twin rubber tracks.
But it’s not the electric motors or rubber tracks which make the tractor so exciting. It is the fact it does not need an operator.
Farmers have found it increasingly difficult to find reliable, qualified, workers. It’s a tough combination finding someone willing to work the long hours required at peak farm times (in particular seeding and harvest), and also has the ability to work with the increasing technology of big farm equipment.
The Spirit will alleviate that demand for operators.
The Spirit, which will utilize a series of on farm towers to control operation, rather than standard GPS satellites, is supposed to go into production in spring of 2013. It will be a major step forward in technology on the farm, and is likely to herald in a dramatic shift in how we look at farm power as we move forward.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor of Yorkton This Week.