Jay Boberg envisions a future without tractor drivers.
That’s not because the co-founder of Nicolas-Jay winery presumes that particular piece of farming equipment will become obsolete. As the proud owner of Oregon’s first electric autonomous tractor, he simply has faith that cutting-edge technology will render butts in seats unnecessary.
Introduced by East Bay-based startup Monarch Tractor last December, it wasn’t so much the self-driving vehicle that initially caught his attention. Instead, he was drawn by the dream team that launched the company: a fourth-generation California wine grower who’s led pioneering efforts to eradicate herbicides in his industry; the former head of the Tesla Gigafactory; and a scientist who has experience developing everything from automated cars to four-wheel drive subterranean robots that can map as they go.
“They basically saw an opportunity to bring farming into the 21st century,” says Boberg.
The Monarch does more than just steer itself. It can complete other tasks all on its own, everything from weed removal to crop data analysis, including yield measurements and health metrics. The tractor will even send you a text if it looks like rain is in the forecast. And the fact that the machine doesn’t devour diesel means there is no tailpipe pollution—a typical model would produce 14 times the emissions of the average car.
Although the driverless rig isn’t trundling around Nicolas-Jay’s 53 acres of land in the Dundee Hills just yet, there will be a prototype at Ponzi Vineyards and Lingua Franca in late July for a display run. The hope is that the spectacle will convince more vintners who may be on the fence that a riderless tractor really can negotiate hundreds of rows of grapes without mowing down the vines.
“It’s important,” Boberg says, “that Oregon is very early on the innovation side of things when it comes to farming.”