Self-Driving Tractors Yet to Convince Farmers to Hand Over Keys

Perhaps sooner than later Cooperatives engaged in wide-scale farming may not need to sit behind their tractors when ploughing or harvesting, but not all farmers are ready to give up control of their tractors even though fully autonomous technology has arrived.

There’s still work to be done perfecting all functions that have to be automated, meaning fields swarming with self-operating machines are a few years down the road, according to equipment maker AGCO Corp. Chief Operating Officer Eric Hansotia.

“To take the driver out of the vehicle, you have to automate all the functions the farmer does,” Hansotia said in an interview. “So anything a farmer watches or checks, changes or adjusts, it’s what we’re working on.”

Equipment makers are laying the groundwork for such technology to go mainstream. Hansotia said AGCO has been working with a coalition of companies to create an open, “interstate highway system” for farmers to easily control and share data coming off their machines wirelessly.

Another frontier is using artificial intelligence on sprayers to stop chemicals from drifting off fields — an issue that farmers are increasingly confronting as weedkiller dicamba becomes increasingly popular. The herbicide has a propensity to vaporize and drift onto neighboring fields, harming plants that aren’t genetically modified to withstand it. More than a million acres of soybeans were damaged last year, and the chemical was a focus of some lawsuits.

Last year, AGCO released a combine that has sensors to visualize crop flow in real time, automatically adjusting settings to optimize harvest, and plans to launch a smart planter in South America this year. The company also owns Precision Planting LLC, which builds agriculture technology that can be added to machinery.

Much as the news sounds good to the ears of most farmers in Uganda that TheCooperator News talked too, it’s still seen as a farfetched dream. “That idea would be perfect in terms of efficiency, time management, and cost-cutting measures, but as we still grapple with simple challenges like poor seeds and fake fertilizers, going that far in terms of having self-driven tractors, seems a farfetched dream for Uganda in particular,” said Joseph Okello, a large scale cotton farmer in Kitgum, attached to East Acholi Growers Cooperative Union.

Yusuf Musoke a large scale maize farmer, in Mubende under the Wamala Growers Cooperative Union, said: “That type of technology is what every large scale farmer would prefer, but when do we see that (technology) reaching Africa, and Uganda?”

(Source/Bloomberg News)

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