Kinze Manufacturing’s autonomous row crop technology.

Kinze Manufacturing hopes to do for tractors what Roomba has done for vacuum cleaners.


Last month the 46-year-old farm implement company demonstrated to dealers its new autonomous system developed with Jaybridge Robotics of Cambridge, Mass., which uses the global positioning system or GPS to allow tractors to run without human operators.

For two years Kinze and Jaybridge tested the system for detecting obstacles such as fence posts, stand pipes, farm animals and other vehicles.

But according to Susanne Kinzenbaw Veatch, vice president and chief marketing officer at Kinze, the spark for the autonomous system came from the vision of her dad, one in a long line of Iowa farmers and tinkerers.

“About 10 years ago, Dad started thinking that the future of agriculture wasn’t necessarily in bigger equipment, but in autonomous drones,” Veatch said.

Farmers already use global positioning systems to guide tractors and combines, but that technology works with someone sitting inside the vehicle.

Beyond demonstrating the technology to its dealers, Kinze isn’t yet saying when the system will be available or for what price. But when the Kinze system arrives, it will be aimed at solving one of farming’s most persistent problems: the scarcity of help.

“When you talk about good farm help these days, you’re talking about more than just a hired hand,” said Kinze’s founder and owner, Jon Kinzenbaw. “The farm worker has to be very mechanically and technically skilled. There’s not a lot of those folks around.”

Veatch said the autonomous system holds the possibility of 24-hour planting during often rare good weather in April.

“We’re farmers, and we understand that farming is all about production, whether corn sells for $3 per bushel or $7,” Veatch said. “With Iowa weather, there are only narrow windows for planting and harvesting. You need more innovative equipment for more production.”

Kinze dealers appear willing to give the drone systems a try.

“I can see farmers interested in this kind of system because of the difficulty in getting help at harvest time,” says Tim Seubert, whose S&S Equipment in Lawton, Iowa, sells Kinze carts and planters.

Remote-controlled tractors are far removed from the welding shop Kinzenbaw opened in Ladora, Iowa, in 1965, when he leveraged $5 in cash and a $3,655 bank loan into what now is one of the nation’s largest farm implement companies.

Veatch, Kinzenbaw’s daughter, is now in charge of the privately held company, and Kinzenbaw comes in once a week for management meetings. But otherwise he is retired and still tending to his 2,000-acre farming operation in Iowa County.

On the day the autonomous row crop system was rolled out, Kinzenbaw reflected on changes in agriculture.

“I was sure proud of how quickly the farmers in Iowa were able to get the corn crop planted this spring,” he said, knowing that many were in the fields before sunrise or after sunset using 24- or 36-row planters. “We only had one good week in April, and we got almost 70% of the corn in that week.”

Then he laughed and said: “Sure, I guess I’d like to say that I could have seen it all coming 40 years ago. But agriculture is all about innovation.”

Photo credit:  marketwire

Via USA Today