Deere & Company harvests Blue River Technology in smart farming drive

Deere & Company harvests Blue River in smart farming drive

Agricultural machinery manufacturer Deere & Company, better known as John Deere, has announced it will acquire Blue River Technology, a Silicon Valley-based specialist in machine learning and robotics for precision agriculture, for $ 305 million.

Blue River’s ‘see-and-spray’ robots are fixed to tractors and use computer vision to identify plants in a field, to ‘see’ if they are in need of fertilizer, pesticide or other crop management procedures. The robots are primarily used on lettuce, cotton and other specialty vegetable crops.

Read more: John Deere ploughs furrow as Industrial Internet pioneer

Heavily backed

Blue River had previously raised some $ 31 million in venture capital funding and claims that its ‘precision farming’ technology can save farmers up to 90 percent of the volume of chemicals they might use with more traditional approaches. And if farmers are being more efficient in their use of fertilizer or pesticide, presumably, then they may free up money to invest in more machinery.

According to Blue River’s website, the company is also developing a ‘LettuceBot’ for “precision lettuce thinning” and a drone imaging system that collects data from fields.

“Blue River is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm management decisions from the field level to the plant level,” said Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of Blue River Technology. “We are using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field.”

Read more: Agtech start-up Arable to measure crops and weather with IoT

Smart farming

In addition to new technologies, the acquisition gives Deere a 60-person team specializing in precision agriculture in Sunnyvale, California to work on new developments.

Other companies targeting smart farming are thinking along similar high-tech lines: Monsanto (which recently scrapped plans to sell its Precision Planting unit to Deere) struck a deal with biotech company ToolGen to develop farm products in mid-August, while DuPont bought agriculture analytics firm Granular around the same time.

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John Deere opens SF office to make its tractors smarter

John Deere’s office in San Francisco will eventually feature a simulator.

Farm equipment company John Deere is no stranger to the internet of things. It was connecting sensors and actuators on the farm twenty years ago. The next big thing in farming is what connected devices enable: precision agriculture. Precision Agriculture combines connected with devices with machine learning to have them make faster and more precise decisions, possibly without a farmer’s input.

To make precision ag the new reality, John Deere needs Silicon Valley skills. That’s why last week it opened an office in the SoMA area of San Francisco to connect with local talent.

Alex Purdy, head of John Deere Labs in San Francisco, says the hope is to find startups (or individuals) solving robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence problems that may be of use in agriculture.

“We know the center of gravity for that talent pool is here and we want to organically build that,” he says.

Purdy says he has a list of 50 problems that he thinks machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence can help solve ranked by how much impact they could have on farmers. For example, he’s looking for a way to deliver nutrients to plants at the right place and at the right time. Other efforts involve making better algorithms that can take advantage of the increasing number of sensors John Deere wants to add to its machinery.

The secondary goal of the office is to connect more deeply with Bay Area companies that already work with John Deere or its growers. For example, John Deere has a relationship with companies such as drone and satellite imagery company Mavericks; software providers FBN, FarmLogs and AgDNA and roughly 70 others.

John Deere is one of a long line of companies building Bay Area offices in hopes of attracting technical talent. Industrial heavyweights from GE to Ford have built up presences in Silicon Valley and San Francisco in the last decade as they realize the import of getting more technically savvy.

However, San Franciscans might find themselves surprised by how reliant farmers already are on tech and John Deere’s efforts to bring them to that point.

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