Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
With the introduction of John Deere’s first autonomous tractor for broad acre systems, the global equipment business has begun off 2022 with a boom. The machine, which combines a John Deere 8R tractor, a TruSet-enabled chisel plough, and a GPS guidance system, will be available for a short time in the United States this year. In the next years, it will be gradually pushed out to additional countries, including Australia. The self-driving tractor was unveiled at CES 2022 in Las Vegas in early January. When John Deere brought the autonomous tractor to his farm for testing four years ago, Minnesota farmer Doug Nimz was one of the first people in the world to try it out. Mr Nimz, a fourth-generation farmer, manages 813 acres in Blue Earth, where he produces maize and soybeans.
The autonomous tractor monitors its position in relation to a virtual geofence in real-time. It operates with a precision of less than 2.5cm. Six stereo cameras ensure that the machine can detect obstacles from all sides and compute distance by feeding the images acquired by the cameras through a neural network that identifies each pixel in about 100 milliseconds. If an obstruction is spotted, this affects whether the machine will continue to move or halt. The tractor is the result of industry-leading technology and a focused goal to equip farmers with tools to produce safe and nutritious food and fibre for a growing global population, according to John Deere Australia/New Zealand managing director Luke Chandler.
With the world’s population expected to reach over 10 billion people by 2050, global food demand is expected to increase by 50%, requiring farmers to be as efficient and sustainable as possible throughout the production process. Ben Kelly, production systems manager for John Deere Australia/New Zealand, noted that Australian farmers have traditionally been at the forefront of agtech adoption around the world. Given the scarcity of skilled labour, Mr Kelly believes that access to autonomous machinery for large-scale production has never been more crucial. It’s as simple as transporting the tractor to a field and configuring it for autonomous operation with this new tractor. Farmers can then use the John Deere Operations Center to start the machine and leave the field to focus on other duties as they monitor its status from their mobile device.