Mechanisation of agriculture is fundamental to reducing poverty and improving lifestyle and food security in the developing world. Large populations are escaping subsistence agriculture, and there is a broad consensus that conservation agriculture (CA) is the only sustainable approach to cropping. Equipment for CA could be a major focus of R&D activity by the global farm machinery industry, but this is not happening. Land preparation, seeding and harvesting units are the machine tools of agriculture, and must fit production systems. Tillage might be unnecessary, but tractor tillage-based systems have been the basis of the farm machinery industry. Conservation agriculture still lacks seeding equipment that is effective over a broad range of conditions, and machine-width variability of soil and residues is a fundamental problem. Precision guidance and compatibility with permanent raised-bed and controlled-traffic cropping systems should represent major opportunities, but are not attractive commercial R&D investment propositions for the farm machinery industry. While industry and farmers will enjoy significant benefits from the adoption of CA, the community will be the major single beneficiary, via the reduced environmental footprint of a crop production system which is essential for food security.