On the opening day of our National No-Tillage Conference in January, John Deere introduced its first-ever autonomous tractor in Las Vegas to considerable fanfare. While the advanced driverless tractor is no doubt an engineering marvel, the package deal that requires the purchase of decades-old chisel plow technology is not so innovative.

So much for the green guys pushing the more progressive no-till or strip-till practices, I guess. A driverless tractor pulling a chisel plow up to 24 hours a day doesn’t make sense for no-tillers — agriculture’s most innovative producers.

Biggest Time-Waster

But choosing a chisel plow to demonstrate the autonomous tractor is probably genius for Deere. Tillage is the biggest time-waster and easiest in-field activity to automate. Yet the argument that a driverless tractor can be a huge labor-saver doesn’t hold water for no-tillers who have solved a big portion of their labor woes by simply abandoning costly tillage trips.

Deere’s pitching of the required tractor and chisel plow package to “early adopters” is laughable. I don’t see how you can qualify as an early adopter if you’re still dragging heavy tillage tools across your fields.

If Deere is concerned about dwindling sales of moldboard plows, discs, chisel plows, field cultivators and subsoilers, coupling an expensive piece of iron to a world-class tractor in such a package is smart economics. But does it make economic or agronomic sense to a no-tiller? No way.

Todd Janzen, an Indianapolis, Ind., attorney specializing in agricultural legal matters, questions why Deere’s driverless tractor video focused on tillage applications when the trend is toward no-till and strip-till. He also questions why Deere’s most sophisticated tractor is shown doing the least sophisticated activities rather than planting or applying nutrients.

The Answer is Simple

Today’s growers want to closely monitor the most critical aspects of growing their crops and in real-time. They’ll step down the ladder to check things out. Despite its technological advances, I’m guessing few no-tillers would be willing to let this tractor pull a no-till planter, drill, air seeder or sprayer.

Meanwhile, the latest Raven OMNIPOWER driverless power platform technology (formerly known as DOT; National No-Tillage Conference attendees will remember inventor Norb Beaujot’s presentation from 3 years ago) has already demonstrated that a tractor isn’t needed for planting, seeding and fertilizing no-tilled crops.

Deere’s autonomous tractor is a big deal. Being required to also buy an outdated chisel plow to use it is not.