For this TechRepublic cover story, Natalie Gagliordi takes you inside the race to feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit planet earth in 2050. See how John Deere and others are working to change the equation before it's too late.
This download provides the magazine version of the article as a free PDF for registered TechRepublic and ZDNet members. The online version of this story is available here.
From the story:
Marcus Hall was nine years old when he first drove a tractor on his family's sprawling Iowa farm, eschewing Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars for long rides on heavy machinery. Growing up on a multigenerational family farm is common in an agricultural state like Iowa, where nearly 27 million acres are devoted to cropland—out of the 35 million acres that make up the state. For many, the experience ties them to the earth. The sense of freedom in an open field entices each season.
Hall grew up with all the trappings of a future farmer, but a penchant for technology led him down a more experimental path—to the test farm of ag equipment giant John Deere. As manager of the test farm, Hall gets to run field trials of John Deere's high-tech farm equipment before it goes to market. It's the proverbial dream job for a self-described farm boy.
"I just enjoy being out on the tractor," says Hall. "Plus, it's fun being part of this type of technology and the leading edge of what's out there."
It's a warm, breezy day in late May 2018, when we meet up with Hall at John Deere's test facility in Bondurant, IA. The farm sits on an unassuming patch of land framed by two-lane roads. Blue skies and a quintessential Midwest flatness consume the horizon. Tractor engines form a steady hum in the background.
This is where John Deere runs operational tests of its next-generation precision farming systems—massive tractors and combines that plant and harvest crops in thousand-acre fields.
Hall slides into the driver's seat of a new John Deere row-crop tractor, preparing for our test drive. His seat is flanked on the right with an array of iPads, touchscreens, and control panels, which slightly obscure a wraparound windshield encasing the two-seater cockpit. With a few taps on an iPad, he checks that the system is ready for seed disbursement, citing terms like row population, back pressure, and singulation. The tractor eases into motion, and after a few more control checks, Hall sits back, hands folded comfortably in his lap.
The tractor is driving itself.
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