Driverless tractor used for planting at Bristol Farms

The future has arrived. Recently, a tractor without a driver was used to plant soybeans at a farm north of Fairmont.

Craig Rupp with a company called Sabanto spent time at the farm of Shane Bristol and family, to plant a field using an autonomous planter. "We are going across the United States, autonomously planting, using our tractor and our 18-row planter," Rupp said. "We are trying to learn about the challenges and constraints of planting without a driver."

This is believed to be the first time in Nebraska that a driverless tractor and planter was used to plant a field at this large of a scale. "We are using a JCB 4220 tractor," Rupp said. "We chose it because it's small enough to fit on a truck, and it's short enough so we can get a 30-foot planter and a tractor on the truck. We modified and added equipment in the tractor cab to make it autonomously controlled." The experts with Sabanto then remotely control the tractor in a command center within an RV nearby.

"I think labor is an issue with every farmer," Rupp said. "We can go 24-7 with this system. It takes the farmer out of the tractor. However, he can now focus on what's important. Seed, the seed depth, the placement of the seed. These are tasks that the farmer can now focus on better through this system."

This type of equipment is really not futuristic. "When people say someday there's going to be autonomous tractors and planters, well, it's already been done. I think there will be a day when all field operations are done autonomously. I don't think it will put farmers out of a job. It will focus their expertise," Rupp said.