A restructured management approach that has put more onus on staff is paying dividends for farm managers Isaac and Michelle Johnstone.
All this technological wizardry with its productivity improvements and labour savings is fun and games up to a point.
The point that is, where somebody, somewhere, decides that the best way to apply said wizardry, is to improve tractors by removing the driver.
That’s exactly what Case IH have done, with their ‘Autonomous Concept Tractor’, featured in a recent issue of this paper.
It’s impressive technology, but much as the original Luddites probably appreciated the genius that went into a power loom, I can recognise that and remain somewhat vexed.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for labour saving devices.
I own a robotic vacuum cleaner.
I applaud the efforts people are going to, to adapt robotic milking systems to pasture-based dairy farming.
Tractors themselves (of which I also own one) were invented to cut out all that mucking around with horses.
But why, oh why, do people have to concoct labour saving technology that takes the fun out of life?
I hate vacuuming, and I don’t meet many people that enjoy milking either.
But who doesn’t like driving tractors?
If you’re rare enough to be one of those people, Gumtree is full of candidates with the will to take the tedium off your hands.
Of course, it’s one thing to own an operation and exercise your boss-person right to play with the big toys, but it’s another to have to pay someone to do the playing, while you fix their stuff-ups.
Perhaps this is the sweet spot for autonomous tractors: the means by which the boss can run the show, with a minimum of underlings getting in the way.
It looks like Case IH is angling this way with their marketing of the concept; and they’re seeking feedback as to whether they’re right.
As with most robots, the autonomous tractor presumably won’t turn up drunk, underqualified, fight with the other robots, or deviate from specific instructions.
But who wants to let go of the steering wheel entirely? How many people get into farming so they can spend more time at a computer?
Fortunately, for the boss who can’t quite give up full control of the steering wheel, Valtra has a solution.
Several years ago, everyone’s favourite Scandinavian tractor manufacturer unveiled its ANTS concept.
Admittedly, the Case IH machine is a real life full scale tractor adapted from the legendary Magnum line, while ANTS is a thought bubble and a few scaled models. But bear with me.
ANTS is based on a modular system, where individual machines can work independently or coupled together.
With ANTS, a driver in a cab on one of the modules can command semi-autonomous units performing supporting tasks in the paddock.
None of this sitting-in-the-office-on-a computer-waiting-for-an-error-alert nonsense; you can command your empire out in the field, while doing the fun bits you got into farming to enjoy.
Admittedly, the UHF banter might be somewhat lacking, but if you’re bothered by that, you’d better get back on Gumtree.