How will John Deere’s first driverless tractor impact the labor workforce in the Quad Cities?


Narita Lambert

A John Deere sign outside the Moline John Deere Cylinder division on April 1.

Chloe Baxter

John Deere has just announced the release of its first driverless tractor, set to be available for purchase later in 2022. The innovative technology allows farmers to till their fields through their smartphones and perform duties such as plowing or seeding without the farmer ever being seated in the driver’s seat. 

While it is true that an autonomous means of farming will certainly lead to greater efficiency and benefit production, there is still the possibility of the economy of the Quad Cities and the agricultural industry being negatively impacted. 

Increased reliance on technology could develop as a result of the driverless tractor, with an artificial intelligence system being in the place of the driver. However, it is not the reliance itself that presents a problem, but the issues this may create due to the quick introduction of innovative technology and the inability of the agriculture market to adapt. This issue will be all the more evident when the machines are repaired.

“Farmers might also run into repair issues with new, more complex systems […] John Deere has in the past faced criticism for its controversial right-to-repair policies, which […] make it more difficult for them to repair machinery on their own,” Jack Bartholomew, operations manager at Bottom Line Solutions in Morton, said (Quad City Times). 

John Deere’s policies for machine repairs often limit tools available to farmers and make it difficult for repairs to be done promptly. Due to the quick release and predicted popularity of the tractor, this may result in an inability to meet consumer demand in the agricultural industryz. There is also the issue of the tractor eliminating the need for additional labor on farms, limiting jobs available for those within this line of work. 

Of course, some argue that John Deere’s newest release will benefit the Quad City employment market instead. For example, Augustana’s engineering graduates or engineering majors who would like to find a full-time job or internship can apply because the machines and additional tools needing to be produced will generate additional jobs in other fields. 

Also, the elimination of labor needed on farms benefits farmers who have struggled through the pandemic to find consistent employment. This is due to less people living in rural areas and health concerns related to the pandemic. With this in mind, having a tractor that does not require a person to be present would be beneficial because it would eliminate the need for additional employees.  

According to The Next Web, farming labor shortages are a global problem as people migrate to cities. 

“The average farmer is over 55 and puts in 12–18 hours of work a day,” John Deere said (The Next Web).

Following the presentation and reveal of the autonomous tractor in January 2022, many farmers eagerly await the release of the driverless tractor. They hope the tractor’s ability to operate with the little-to-no human intervention allows them to operate their business better, with less focus on the duties the tractor can perform independently and more focus on alternative tasks. 

“The thing that excites me the most about autonomy is not being locked in the tractor cab all day. It will just allow me to run my business better because I can just pay closer attention to other tasks. Now I’ll be doing the jobs we always wanted to get done,” Doug Nimz, a corn and soybean farmer from Minnesota featured in the video operating the tractor, said (WVIK, Quad Cities NPR).

The introduction of autonomous technology into the agricultural industry will have a significant benefit for farmers personally. But there is also the argument that its introduction may result in greater difficulty in finding jobs within the agricultural sector, negatively impacting the Quad Cities’ recovering economy. 

However, the expected increase in efficiency and ability for a farmer’s focus to be delegated to other tasks – which may lead to additional benefits for a farm’s operation – does signify that the tractor overall is a keystone step towards automation within the agricultural industry.