I was recently scrolling through the pictures of those who I follow on Instagram (Follow us at @profoundag1) when one particular photo and caption caught my attention advertising a small drone for sale. The caption read that it was an AgriCopterPro made in Tennessee by Agriimage. The description goes on to read that it is ideal for crop scouting and comes with some add ons for better performance. Brand new the list price hovers around $4,000 dollars but this particular unit was used, and was being offered at only $3,000. Something about a drone made especially for crop scouting seems a bit futuristic for me. I remember growing up hearing of one day having combines and tractors that will levitate to reduce compaction, as well as hover craft ATV’s but I never took them seriously. I’m sure someone probably told me that drones would eventually be common on the farm but I either tuned it out or filed it away with the other mythical sounding things, like remote operated tractors.
I made a note to look up the company that builds these gizmos, and kept scrolling through my Instagram when I saw another post that caught my attention. It was a video of a young man, I’d guess high school age, that had just got his John Deere B running for the first time since performing his very first engine overhaul with the help of his father. This made me think of all the technological advancements made in agriculture in such a short time.
Today we have tractors equipped with satellite transmitters and GPS that can literally drive themselves through a field with pinpoint accuracy. Our sprayers can turn off each nozzle one by one to prevent over application of chemicals, not only saving money but helping to keep some of the more aggressive environmentalist off our backs. The combines almost all have a fancy monitor in them that shows field yield and immediate yield, moisture level, fuel usage per hour, and much more. A few years ago I rode in, a then brand new, Case IH combine that belonged to a neighbor. As I was with him I heard a bunch of beeping and chirping coming from this computer screen in the cab. I asked him what was going on and he told me it was just an alert to let him know the tank was getting full. He also chuckled and told me a story have having his grandson with him a few days prior to my visit. His grandson thought the chirping was coming from a cell phone and after about an hour of riding in the combine the little boy instructed his grandfather to “either answer your phone or turn the stupid thing off.”
My father grew up on a farm here in Iowa and he tells me all the time the way things have changed over the years. He says that if someone had told him that someday we would be farming with tractors that produced 500+ hp he would have laughed at them. However, he is not the only one with such feelings. He grew up using a variety of equipment and implement brands that are no longer even in existence such as Oliver, Minneapolis Moline, Allis Chalmers, and many more. He also used implements that are rarely ever used any more such as; corn pickers and shellers and mounted cultivators. If I go back another generation to my grandfather, who still works hard every day even though he is nearing his 85th birthday, he could tell you of even more changes. He remembers being a young boy and his father bringing home a brand new John Deere A. The A was a game changer on the family farm and shortly there after came a B as well as a host of other equipment. He remembers thinking they had the best there would ever be while running these 2-popper tractors. He laughs to think that his current lawn mower has a higher hp rating than that John Deere B.
I recently got done doing a partial restoration to an old John Deere 999 corn planter that my grandfather had given me around 7-8 years ago. It has found a home as a yard ornament out front by the road for all to see. A buddy of mine stopped over one day shortly after I put it out in the yard and being a young farmer himself he went over to check it out. “Pretty amazing isn’t it”, he said. I had no clue what he was talking about and just shot him a funny glance. He explained he was talking about the planter and how odd it seemed. Originally it was designed to be pulled by horses and later my great grandfather had converted it to be pulled by a tractor. My friend was in awe. He stated that it would take nearly a full day to plant 10 acres with a couple horses and this contraption and I suspect he could be right.
If you were to talk to many of these retired farmers they would tell you that the price of modern equipment (even old used equipment), as well as inputs, and seed is ridiculous, but I bet if you tell them about these drones that are offered for multiple uses from crop scouting to chemical application they would have a tough time believing you. I would also wager when you told them a simple crop scouting drone was $4,000 dollars they would tell you how they bought a brand new Farmall 350 for around $3,000.
What I find very interesting is even with all these technological advances in agriculture much of the old technology is still used every day. For example, my father owns a 1965 Famall 656 equipped with a Westendorf loader. It is nearly 50 years old and still has a use on the farm. My uncle has a couple of 1960’s John Deere 3020’s that quite literally get used every day. There are a ton of tractors and even some implements still playing a vital role on even the biggest farming operations across the country that are 40-60 years old or more. Some things just don’t need changing.
From the days of the first Deere & Co. plow to now it is amazing that with each innovation farmers have always thought “we have the best that there will ever be,” and yet we should know by now that what the future holds can potentially change how we do things forever. I may have thought that a drone used to scout crops with a such a high price tag seemed crazy, but I realize it is here to stay for the long term and may very well find its way into everyday life of the American crop producer. I still have my doubts about the magical levitating combines though.