Steve Cubbage: Robots Get Real In A Hurry

01:36PM Feb 18, 2020
Steve Cubbage
As a precision ag consultant, Steve Cubbage works with farmers to implement and manage hardware and data and bridge the gap between the two.
( Farm Journal Media )

At the tail end of 2019 we might have witnessed a watershed moment in the history of agriculture.

During the 20th century, agriculture certainly had a few giant leaps forward that transformed it into something out of an H.G. Wells novel:

  • The Iron Horse took the place of real ones in the fields.
  • The Green Revolution exponentially grew land productivity.
  • The biotech revolution created crops that could protect themselves from pests and tolerate herbicides.
  • Finally, a tech revolution gave us satellite farming that allowed us to farm down to the square foot.

The moment we’re talking about now is one where the Iron Horse does not have a rider. Autonomous vehicles and robots in fields just got a lot more real as one company is consolidating its focus on fully commercializing this technology.

All In On Autonomous

Through back-to-back acquisitions, Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Raven Industries has gone all in on autonomous.

First it secured majority ownership of DOT Technology Corp., manufacturer of autonomous agricultural platforms based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Then it acquired Smart Ag Inc., a technology company based out of Ames, Iowa.

DOT Technology is known for its development of a large robotic platform that features transformer-like flexibility to convert from a seeder to a fertilizer spreader or even to a spraying platform.

Meanwhile, Smart Ag made its name as the “driverless grain cart” company that took auto steer to a new level.

Someday Becomes Today

We love talking about Mars rover-like technology that will someday transform farming. We get so caught up in the technology we fail to focus on the problem said technology even solves.

The real questions: Will such technology be adopted? And, for what reason?

That’s what feels different about these  events. By reading the tea leaves, it is becoming clear commercial application, primarily driven by ag retail, is where autonomy will likely make its mark.

With DOT Technologies’ business alignments with New Leader, a manufacturer of fertilizer application spreader beds, Raven has assembled the whole package necessary for commercial application autonomy.

The possibilities this could open up are tremendous. It is hard to find and keep good, qualified applicators. Accuracy and application efficiencies should improve.

You might have rental fleets of autonomous applicators that could travel within regions of the country throughout a crop year. The bottom line: This puts new possibilities on the table.