Dan Elliott says farm labor shortages haven’t hit too hard around Cameron in western Illinois yet, but farmers can always use an extra helping hand even if the “help” technically doesn’t have any hands.

Elliott, whose family farming operation grows corn and soybeans and is in the seed business in Cameron, is one of three farmers in the area who are participating in testing the new Kinze Manufacturing Autonomy project.

The project is using current precision farming and advanced robotics from a company involved in mining and the defense industry to operate a tractor pulling a grain cart without a human being inside the tractor cab. The autonomous tractor is actually controlled by the operator in the combine cab.

“We are really excited about it,” he said in an interview following a demonstration of the technology on his family’s farm.

“We think it brings a lot to the table in terms of new technology.”

Like any new technology, the benefits of the technology must be weighed against the cost, he noted. But Elliott believes that over time “the benefits of this new system could really add up and make a difference.”

Labor shortages have not impacted the Cameron area as much as some parts of the country. “We’ve been fortunate to have some really good people working for us,” said Elliott. “But anytime you can free someone up to go do something else, that’s a plus.”

“So far for me the system has worked great,” says Kent Armstrong, another corn and soybean farmer who farms in the Cameron area. “Aside from a few glitches when we started, which they were right on top of, it has been running wonderfully.”

Montgomery says he has been surprised at how simple the operation of the system is. “It’s very easy to learn the controls and operate them. We haven’t spilled a drop of corn other than some that was due to operator error on my part. The cart has been working well.”