A Farm Equipment Special Report: What Will Agriculture Look Like in 2021?

Welcome to a decade where experts predict farm technologies will change and shift at the break-neck pace of the other high-tech products in our lives. The result will be a very different agricultural landscape 10 years from today.

Just like the 1920s, the 2020s are likely to produce some astounding technologies that have the potential to usher in a new era of agriculture — one that is driven by precision, efficiency, adaptability and automation.

Sensor technology and electrohydraulics will drive many of the technological feats predicted by the forward-thinking agriculturists interviewed for this report.

"Electrohydraulics combine the unmatched power density of hydraulics with the intelligence of electronics to deliver both the muscle and control required for precision agriculture," says Jeff Schick, global director of Eaton Corp.'s ag and forestry market segment. "In the last 10 years, this technology has enabled significant machine performance improvements that give us the ability to reduce input costs by applying the right amount of seed, fertilizer and chemical to the right acres. This is the way forward, and we'll see even more electrohydraulic technology distributed throughout machines and implements."

Electrohydraulic systems deliver muscle in a small, efficient package with the kind of control once only available from electric servos. That, in turn, makes the highly sophisticated system capabilities needed to apply seed, chemical and fertilizer on a prescription basis to ever-smaller targets in the field easy to implement.

"We're already shutting off individual rows on planters and controlling boom sections on sprayers," says Al Myers, president of Ag Leader Technology. "In the future, we'll reach the point where we're applying inputs and planting almost on a meter-by-meter basis."

Autoswath-type controls were adopted to sprayers and then to planters, he says. Myers sees precision technology becoming even more refined in these existing applications and then making the jump to other field operations in the very near future. He sees applications for the technology in air-seeders and fertilizer applicators.

Several forces will combine to drive further development of precision and efficiency technologies.

"There's no question that the growing world population and the demand for food will be a positive force for agricultural development," says Jerry Roell, director of John Deere FarmSight. "Consolidation in agriculture will continue and larger farms always demand more efficiency and productivity."

More importance will be placed on the nutrient density of food in the future, says Robert Saik, CEO of the Agri-Trend Group.

"Traditionally, we've grown and sold our crops based on the bushel or the ton. In the future that will be coupled with the nutrient value of the crop," he says. "The decade ahead will provide more opportunities for producers to grow and market specialized, nutrient-dense foods."

He notes that crops grown in some areas of the Dakotas are higher in selenium, a nutrient proven to create greater resistance to prostate cancer. The trick is developing specialized crops or programs that produce specialized crops, he says. The challenge lies in proving where the food came from and the fact that it has a certain nutritional attributes.

"In the '70s they put confetti in grain bins to prevent theft. Tomorrow's confetti might be grain codes or even biodegradable RFID chips to store information on origin and practices used to produce the product," Saik says.

With all of the management options, marketing opportunities and data pouring in, he says, collaboration with experts will be necessary for successful farmers in the future.

"We have layer after layer after layer of data coming in. Soil tests, tissue tests, yield data. You don't have to guess anymore; you know what the crop needs when it needs it if you can evaluate the data," Saik says. "Farmers aren't going to do this in isolation, they're going to have people that mine, interpret and recommend how to utilize the data."


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