Deere bringing machine learning to Ag-Equipment with $305 million acquisition

The best way to ensure that your company will continue to grow and make profits in the future is to make investments that will help your product line become modern and more efficient.  And that’s exactly what, the iconic farm and agricultural equipment manufacturer Deere has done by acquiring a high-tech Silicon Valley firm named Blue River Technology. This impressive deal is valued at $305 million.

Blue River Technology is a firm that specializes in applying machine learning towards achieving agricultural efficiency. Using a combination of machine learning and computer vision to detect sneaky weeds between crops and then spraying them head-on with herbicide, the firm has developed a product named LettuceBot with See and Spray technology, indicted in a specialized tractor.

The technology will enable farmers to reduce herbicide use by an unprecedented 95% and increase crop yields by a margin of 5-10%.

Weeds are present in almost every farm and spraying the whole field with herbicide incurs an enormous amount of investment. It also decreases the sustainability of crops by polluting even the “Cleaner part of the plants” with unwanted chemicals.

How revolutionary is this technology?

Consider this.

If 10,000 people in New York have an infection, you give everyone in that city, a dose of antibiotic. That’s an incredible amount of useful resources utterly wasted. Most people will find this solution to give everyone an antibiotic reasonable if every resident suffers from an infection. But this scenario is exactly what exactly happens in agricultural fields across the world.

The whole farm is sprayed with herbicide and pesticide, despite only a few crop plants having been infected by weed. And this technology counters exactly that scenario.

The world’s population is on the point of exploding, with thousands of people being added to it each year. But land is not increasing. Rather, we are facing other ecological and climatic complexities like global warming and ecosystem contamination, putting immense pressure on our agricultural industry to come up with solutions fast and meet the world food supply requirements or we risk facing a severe global food shortage.

Deere as a Pioneer of the Next Ag Tech Revolution:

Deere’s investment in Blue River will enable this technology to be coupled with farming equipment that the agricultural community already trusts and make it reach a more global audience. This is a scenario which Blue River couldn’t have achieved alone if it would have gone on to sell its futuristic technology as a stand-alone product.

Also important to note here is that this is not Deere’s first foray into tapping the potential of new technology and increase agricultural yield. The firm started offering autonomous capabilities into its tractors long before companies like Waymo and Otto did it for cars and trucks

In addition to that, Deere has also invested in building its own Ag-tech research facility called John Deere labs to create more and more products that will help farms produce more crops and become capable of fulfilling the bursting demands from the global population.

Blue River Technology acquisition has been Deere’s latest step in that direction. John Deere has been a trusted name in agriculture equipment for close to 180 years, but success in your past doesn’t guarantee success in the future if you keep doing the same thing over and over again.

Deere’s plans for the future mainly involve the use of machine learning, neural networks, and computer vision to develop equipment that is more responsive and serves more functions than an ordinary tractor could. Deere is building a line of “Smart” Equipment which will help in every farm process.

The use of such technologies would make things move from a field level to plant level and would involve “Precision agriculture.” This happens from smarter automation like in the case of Blue River’s product which, if retrofitted on a tractor, takes pictures of each crop plant individually and looks for weeds and if one is spotted, the machine automatically sprays it with herbicide.

There are two cameras on board to accomplish the job with more perfection. The camera on the front handles the job of capturing images of crop plants and relaying the information back for processing and executing the task of spraying individual weeds. The camera on the rear checks and verifies whether the job has been done correctly or not, a process, which can’t be done through conventional machines and even humans.

The capabilities and efficiencies of automating this previously undoable process will have a profound impact on how things are done on farms, giving rise to a transformation. This would also enable farms to reach productivity levels, which they couldn’t have otherwise.

What does the Future Hold?

Blue River’s acquisition will open the way for Deere to fast-track the work it has been already involved in up till now from its John Deere Labs venture. The real essence of this acquisition is to match the technology with Deere’s resources and global reach to power next generation farming and agricultural equipment that’s capable of revisiting the way modern farms will operate.

Specialized and precision weed plucking and zapping is just the start of where this transformative technology can enable farmers. More acute problems like the physiological stresses that plants bear like lack of calcium or nitrogen could also be diagnosed and corrected by deploying machine learning to this area with more precise detailing.

The technology has already made its way into our agriculture to some extent up till now because if you have eaten a lettuce in the past few months, there is a 10% chance that lettuce was inspected by the LettuceBot, ensuring that it was healthy and safe for you to consume. It is only poised to grow more in influence as it currently can inspect 5000 plants per 60 seconds, far beyond what a human can do.

Machine learning is surely where the future of farms lies at the moment, and Deere’s step to acquire Blue River Technology is definitely is a move in the right direction.

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