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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Can you imagine a future with all-remote farming?

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................January 24, 2012


The past two weeks I have been overwhelmed by information: First at the Northern Illinois Farm Show, then the first Annual Meeting of the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA) and lastly, at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau’s Ag Breakfast featuring Steve Faivre talking about new agricultural equipment and farming technology.
The farm show provided the latest on new machinery, GPS devices, chemicals, fertilizers and crop varieties. The DAAHA talked about the history of agriculture in DeKalb County while we got a preview of the group’s new website, www.daaha.org. And then Faivre shared his view of emerging technologies in agri-business at the Farm Bureau breakfast.

When I attended a similar Farm-City Day talk by Faivre about three years ago, he was with John Deere and shared some of the latest innovations as applied to farming operations. This year he came back as a strategic innovator with MEMES Associates out of Naperville and talked about “The Driverless Tractor: What’s Next?”
Would you believe a farmerless farming operation? He didn’t exactly predict that but with all the projected remote-controlled farming equipment, the miniaturized robotics and futuristic technology still to be perfected, one could project in 10-20 years we will see few human beings planting crops or driving farm machinery.

Picture the Air Force drones flying over the battlefields today with pinpoint accuracy aiming at targets on the ground being controlled by people thousands of miles away.

Al Ratfield (left) and Daryl Rolland stand in front of their DeKalb Ag Alumni (and DAAHA) exhibit at the Northern Illinois Farm Show at the NIU Convo Center.
The board and officers of the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA) gathered for their first annual meeting at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau recently. (Schrader photos)

Then transfer that technology to large farming operations where plows, tillers, planters and harvesting machinery can be operated remotely from control centers miles away to do field work now handled by one person driving one machine at a time, and you get the point.
He not only talked about large-scale operations, but also the trend back toward smaller equipment that can be more efficient than today’s many-hundreds-of-thousand-dollar behemoths lumbering across the fields of DeKalb County.
Can you picture mini-robots doing field work, run by remote control and planting seeds with pinpoint accuracy, increasing the yield per acre by hundreds of bushels? Well come back again in three or four year to hear Faivre tell us what to expect. It will blow your mind I bet.
But what does the future hold for the family farmer who can barely afford today’s equipment and would have to train the next generation to be computer jocks and controllers for pilotless drones, guiding the whole field operation from a console in a home office? I imagine there is a video game on the market today that simulates what will be actually going on a decade from now.
On the other hand, if all the farmland is bought by foreigners (like the Arabs and Chinese) , they will do the work from office buildings in other countries and not require anyone to even travel to the farm belt to get their hands dirty in the soil.
Of course I hope they hire a few of today’s farm kids to monitor their far-flung operations locally so they don’t end up planting their seeds down the middle of the tollway or on Lincoln Highway because the unmanned aerial drone mistook the strips of pavement for strips of barren land and dug up asphalt instead of plowing the rich black soil we are so proud of in this county.
This could make a great plot for a science fiction movie. Anyone care to write the script?
Now about that Northern Illinois Farm Show: It was the best one I have attended in five years. And I got to see the Monsanto display where they had the “Million Dollar” DeKalb Genetics Chopper that is in an online auction. If I should make the winning bid (dream on) I will give it to the Rev. Jon Hutchison at DeKalb Methodist who has expressed a lifelong dream of riding up to heaven in a fancy motorcycle like this one.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115