If Old McDonald had a farm today, he could manage it from his laptop computer and map it with an application on his handheld device. When he was out in the field, his tractor’s guidance system could know its position to within less than an inch, turning his planters and sprayers on and off accordingly. A boom height control system would make sure that his sprayer did not hit the ground and a yield monitor on his combine would measure the exact volume of his harvest, in real time. Soil moisture sensors networked via cellular modems, soil density sensors on his planters, and infrared crop health sensors on his tractor would gather a wealth of data that his agronomist would use to prepare a prescription map for the next season. In a few years, that data stream would also include aerial imagery collected by his unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and his tractor would also be running unmanned as a robot in the field. If a chick, duck, turkey, pig, cow, cat, mule, dog, turtle, or farm hand got in its way, the tractor’s radar collision avoidance system would recognize it and stop.
The most widely used term to describe this complex suite of technologies is precision agriculture, and the uptake is exploding. Most new tractors and implements are sold with factory-installed global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receivers and a variety of sensors. Reversing a long-standing trend, kids who were born and raised on farms are now returning there after college, because the work is much more intellectually challenging and less manual labor-intensive than it used to be.