21st-Century Farm Equipment and Its Economic Consequences

Agriculture has come a long way since farmers used oxen for plowing and sheaths for harvesting. Mechanized tillage has expanded yields and arable acreage exponentially since those days, helping the United States and other nation-states attain primary export status around the world. The capacity to optimize a crop while expending less and less human and financial capital is a sometimes unsung story of agricultural history. Meanwhile, the first decades of the 21st century have advanced the storyline even further. Autonomously operated vehicles and implements in development are expected to propel the farm equipment market to $135.2 billion by 2025, a 4.04 percent boost in the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) since 2018.

Cultivating the Earth with Space-Age Technology

Utilizing the same robotic intelligence as driveless automobiles, autonomous tractors combine global positioning systems (GPS) with LiDAR and RADAR sensors along with video cameras so that they can be programmed and–when necessary–operated by a smartphone. LiDAR highlights a target with laser and then measures its reflected light. The synchronization of these technologies affords many advantages. Among them:

  • The accurate evaluation of planting distance for seed means that less of it is wasted.
  • The sensors that help guide the tractor on its designated course also provide feedback regarding soil moisture, fuel requirements and real time harvest yields.
  • Less on-farm labor is needed, a definite plus in an age where immigration restrictions are tightening.

As progress continues in updating farm equipment, manufacturers are confident that demand for such machinery will increase in the coming years.

Governments Getting On Board

National governments and supra-national organizations share this confidence. Given rising food demand in next decades, they are invested in the widespread aquisition and use of machines like autonomous tractors. North American countries, with their propensity for large and high-horsepower farm equipment, lead the way in the production, subsidization and promotion of this state-of-the-art apparatus. European nations are also enthusiastic users of the most upgraded agricultural machinery. These most developed parts of the world, however, also maintain the highest standards of safety. Farms, in fact, are notorius for accidental deaths — suffocation in grain bins and electrocution from contact with power lines are but two infamous examples.

A couple of measures adopted to address safety hazards are:

1. Ordering anti-lock braking systems for tractors that can exceed 60 kph (i.e. a little over 37 mph).

2. Trailers and implements–hay rakes and balers, for example–attached to tractors should be likewise fitted with ABS systems.

Where Safety and Survival Conflict

One factor dousing all the certainty, however, is the lack of safety protocols adopted by developing regions. Advocates of advanced precision agriculture are concerned that too many accidents will blunt global interest in this latest technology. The hope that research and development can make safety features cheaper remains. The question is whether those efficiencies can arrive in time to prevent fatalities that would otherwise serve as a wet blanket on markets. From the forecasts, analysts remain hopeful.

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