Within the next decade, farming as we know it is expected to be revolutionized by the use of self-driving tractors and robots that can perform time-consuming tasks now done by humans.
Sales of major farm machinery have been in a continued slump amid weak prices for key crops such as corn and soybeans, but the ever-present need to control farm costs and increase output will eventually drive farmers to adopt autonomous technologies.
Experts say the first wave of autonomous tech in ag will go primarily to higher-value crops, such as tree nuts, vineyards and fresh produce. Also, some suggest that the big tractors could be replaced with self-propelled autonomous implements, such as sprayers in row crops, orchards and vineyards or with other robotic equipment for other specific tasks on the farm.
All told, Goldman Sachs predicts farm technologies could become a $240 billion market opportunity for ag suppliers, with smaller driverless tractors a $45 billion market on its own. Tens of billions could be spent on advanced tech for major farm uses such as precision fertilizer, planting, spraying and irrigation, Goldman predicts.
Rising costs for farm labor and falling costs for self-driving technology also will provide further catalysts for the shift.
At the same time, the progress in self-driving technology for automobiles — including both object detection capabilities using multicamera systems, radar and lidar technology — could help speed up and lower the cost of developing autonomous farm machinery.