Visit the equipment exhibits at any farm show, and the biggest crowds are probably around the concept tractors. You’ve seen them – the latest concepts are completely autonomous and cab-less. And by cab-less, we mean they don’t have the room, much less a seat, for a driver.
Sure, these are still concepts; someday they will be the norm. But it will be a while before you find most farmers willing to completely give up the cab. Because there’s just something about the solitude of the tractor cab.
Ask anyone other than a farmer if they would spend hours on end in a cab, surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of acres of open land, and they will think you’re crazy.
But talk to a farmer, and he’ll have a completely different perspective. He’ll remember how, when he was little and before buddy seats existed, he slid between the seat and window to learn the ropes from dad or listen wide-eyed to grandpa talk about. “back in my day…”
Today’s farmer also remembers learning how to stay out of the way and when to be quiet, because dad or grandpa had a lot to keep an eye on in the field. It seemed like they had extra arms and eyes to ensure everything ran smoothly – keeping straight lines, watching spacing between rows, being cautious of overlap, turning around at the endrows, raising an implement or turning it off when going over a waterway.
The autosteering and other precision technologies found in today’s farm equipment can take over and smoothly control all the activities that kept dad’s arms and eyes busy. But it doesn’t mean a farmer has it any easier in the tractor. Yesterday’s cab was a hub of manual and physical labor to keep equipment running smoothly. Today’s cab is a mobile office – a hub of business decisions, phone calls, emails, texts and contemplations.
Since GPS and autosteer can control spraying when coming upon a waterway, today’s farmer checks the commodity markets on the smart phone. He’ll then spend some time thinking about whether he should sell and make room in the bins for fall, or if he should hold for just a bit longer.
While precision technology guides equipment in straight lines down the field, today’s farmer reviews spreadsheets on the tablet. The spreadsheets help him determine his break-even point this year and just how bad should disease pressure be before he applies a fungicide?
With no one around to listen, he might even be on the phone with his lawyer or accountant, making succession plans to keep the farm in the family for another 100 years.
In today’s cab, the farmer might even sneak in a guilty pleasure here and there. Like having a dance party, or enjoying the sight of the planter making smooth rows through the field. He might have a chance to watch a funny – and spot-on – YouTube video that his wife forwarded from a co-worker, or replay a laugh-out-loud gif texted from his agronomist.
And some days, when his daughter takes a nap because she’s tired but doesn’t want to leave the field, while autosteer is smoothly gliding down the rows, he might take a break from his mobile screens, watch his daughter sleep and contemplate the day she takes over the family farm. Or maybe there is no napping to be had, but he’s still watching the excitement of the next generation.