2020-style technology here now

When John Deere did its mammoth new equipment introduction at Starkey Farms near Brownsburg, it meant Indiana was where the technology of tomorrow was unveiled. It wouldn’t have had to be Deere. Most companies working on advanced technology are beginning to reveal what the future might look like.

The most captivating demonstration at Mike Starkey’s farm was the tractor and grain cart “picking up” the combine. There was a driver inside the tractor, but once the tractor and cart were within a couple hundred feet, the combine operator took control.

Key Points

Hoosiers got a peek at new technology this summer.

Tractors without drivers could be a reality before 2020.

Tractor and cart controlled by combine will be reality in 2012.


The driver proved it by holding her hands well off the steering wheel as the tractor and cart circled in front of onlookers.

Not only does the tractor and cart pull alongside, but also the speed matches that of the combine. The combine operator can adjust the speed of the tractor so he or she can dump into the front or back. The driver can even “nudge” the cart from side to side.

Tomorrow comes now

Deere hopes to release the equipment, which makes this demonstration possible, for 2012. Kinze is also working on a tractor and cart that could be sent after the combine from anywhere.

Ironically, my daughter Kayla’s speech in the Indiana FFA state speech contest in June was about what agriculture would look like in 2020. She went for the “wow” factor with tractors that drive themselves. Little did she know that the technology was already being tested.

The biggest obstacle to a tractor with no driver is likely safety and liability. The other factor not mentioned directly at the Deere introduction is cost. To equip your tractor pulling the cart to sense the combine and go into autosteering mode, controlled by the combine driver, new hardware and software will be needed.

One feature of Deere’s system is that the cart driver can monitor fill level of hoppers of more than one combine and go after the combine that needs to be dumped first. Starkey isn’t sure his operation is big enough to need or afford that technology yet.

Deere and other companies are betting that several operators will want it, and will likely have it long before 2020.

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No hands! The driver of the tractor pulling the cart is simulating picking up the combine on the go, and doing it without touching the steering wheel or other controls.

This article published in the October, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.