Verizon plows into autonomous tractor field with Monarch

  • Startup Monarch has teamed with Verizon to connect its smart tractors
  • Monarch said that its autonomous and electric tractors can drastically cut fuel and pesticide costs
  • Verizon uses 4G and provides a basestation to collect data for the tractors

Imagine you’re a farmer, it’s fall and you need to plow your fields. Wouldn’t it be a time saver if you could set up a smart tractor to furrow a pre-determined course up and down your arable land?

You can — of course — already do that. Following a long history of plowing innovations there are already semi- and fully autonomous tractors available. In fact, Mordor Intelligence reports that the autonomous tractor market is already estimated to be worth $1.30 billion in 2024, and is expected to reach $4.15 billion by 2029.

Verizon Business has recently said that it is plowing into the automated tractor field thanks to a strategic partnership with startup Monarch Tractors. The Livermore, Calif., startup builds the MK-V, a fully autonomous, electric tractor, that uses 4G Verizon network technology for connectivity as well as Nvidia chips on the vehicle itself.

Monarch already has 400-plus tractors deployed in 12 states and three countries. Carlo Mondavi, co-founder and chief farming officer at Monarch, told Fierce in a phone call that their electric tractors allow farmers to reduce diesel usage, and reduce the need for herbicides because autonomous tractors can mow and plow more frequently.

“If you can drive a Tesla down a freeway at 80 MPH and have it change lanes, you can drive a tractor at 2 or 3 MPH autonomously,” Mondavi stated. “If you can drive a tractor autonomously, you can bridge the economic divide. If you can make it electric, you can bridge the carbon footprint divide,” he said.

Perhaps even more important than the electric element, Mondavi said, is the reduction in need for herbicides. 

“Think of the tractor like a Roomba [vacuum]. It’ll go and mow. If it rains, it’ll go and mow, again,” Mondavi said. “By being able to do this, you have a 100% reduction of herbicides. This is saving farmers a huge amount of money on those chemicals, but also saving our soil biome,” he stated.

AI in the fields?

The connectivity that Verizon provides on the tractor is “4G, right now,” Dave Hickey of Verizon Business west business markets told us. “It really works with the services they’re trying to provide.”

Verizon also provides a base station that collects data that can be transferred back to servers or the cloud and be used in managing the tractor. “They’re using that information to power part of their [artificial intelligence] to the other platforms onboard the tractor,” Hickey said.

Some of the major players in the autonomous tractor field include Claas KGaA GmbH, John Deere and Agrobot.