Deere’s Journey in the Digitization of Agriculture, and Helping Unlock the Potential of African Producers
This post is written by Tavonga Siyavora, Program Manager, John Deere
Farming is a noble calling and a difficult one whether you are near Bloomfield, Iowa or Narok, Kenya. With a legacy of over 180 years of standing beside farmers, John Deere is proud to be the leader in bringing cutting-edge technology that has real impact for those that help to feed, fuel and clothe the world’s population. According to the African Development Bank, over 1 billion people live on the continent today, this complemented by projected population growth towards 2.4 billion on the continent by 2050; the opportunity to embolden ag production across segments to meet rising food demand is an undeniable must.
In many respects, farming parallels what goes into our manufacturing and the very equipment farmers use. Through every crop cycle, growers work to repeat production of a crop while balancing a complex equation of maximizing output, controlling quality, maintaining sustainable practices, and occasionally dealing with factors outside of their control.
For farmers across sub-Saharan Africa, many of these uncontrollable factors include supply chain inefficiencies, environmental factors and limited access to markets. This is why Deere remains committed to helping our global customer base swing the pendulum on what they can control, through our ongoing journey in precision agriculture.
Key John Deere Precision Ag Technology Milestones of Note
- In the early 2000’s, building on a partnership between John Deere and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), came the introduction of Guidance Systems. This technology utilized GPS technology to provide vehicle position at sub-inch accuracy, and when combined with other on-board technologies, delivered machine self-driving capability (AutoTrac™). For farmers, this helped address challenges with tightening windows for field operations such as planting and the need for higher quality execution of jobs, contrast against shrinking access to skilled labor.
- GPS-enabled guidance systems have since become the standard in commercial crop production. Following our 2005 release of AutoTrac™ in South Africa, this core John Deere technology is behind semi-autonomous machines operating across the continent today
- Through the mid-2000’s precision farming grew, building on advancements in geospatial yield mapping, sensor technology, and robotics. Every machine passing across a field could now be broken down into more granular sections; placing inputs only where they were needed and through variable rate technology, better optimizing agronomic variables. Precision farming gave growers the control to dig deeper, from farming by the field, to now farming by the grid to maximize yield while minimizing inputs.
- From 2012 came the introduction of vehicle telematics and cloud-based data management. Over time, dependence on JDLink™ vehicle telematics and the John Deere Operations Center’s cloud-based set of tools has become foundational to how farmers manage machine health and agronomic data from across their fleet. By connecting people, equipment and production steps throughout a crop cycle, farmers are better supported with the insights needed to make on-time complex decisions that help to optimize their operations and protect their bottom line.
- Deere continues to push technology towards what farmers will need tomorrow. This is why in 2017, we purchased Blue River Technology to help build the next generation of smart agricultural equipment. Meeting food production demands of the world’s ever-growing population will need farming to dig deeper, from farming across a grid to agronomic optimization at the individual plant level; all while maintaining scale and productivity. These demands go beyond human capacity and is why Deere is committed to augment the efforts of farmers by increasing automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence on the farm.
In a sense, the foundation of precision ag is bringing together individual technologies and digitization of the farm to deliver greater. We remain committed to those linked to the land by continuing the legacy of leadership in technology, this reflected in Deere being honored in the Tech for a Better World category of the 2020 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Innovation Awards.
Contrast against Deere’s digital interventions for large scale commercial crop production, is the reality that most farming on the African continent is done by smallholder farmers.
The foundational technology and greatest ally farmers can rely on is mechanization. Which is why in addition to providing world class equipment and precision ag technology to capable African growers, Deere is committed to providing mechanization solutions to smallholder farmers on the African continent through our S.M.A.R.T. model. This model delivers mechanization to smallholders through contracting organizations that invest in the equipment and then rent services to farmers. S.M.A.R.T. is a comprehensive business solution that includes customized equipment, finance, services, technology, and training for both the contractors and the smallholder farmers. Deere has scaled the technology for commercial farmers to meet the needs of smallholders through a partnership with Hello Tractor. USAID and John Deere recently announced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for partnering to deliver the S.M.A.R.T. program to smallholder communities in Africa. This new partnership will focus on access to finance, training and technology with Hello Tractor. Deere and USAID will be conducting a workshop during December to begin planning for the introduction of this partnership in select countries across Africa, beginning in 2020.
- African Development Bank: https://www.afdb.org/en/knowledge/publications/tracking-africa%E2%80%99s-progress-in-figures/human-development
- Deere and JPL collaboration on Guidance: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/directorates/spacetech/spinoff/john_deere
- Deere purchase of Blue River Technology: https://www.deere.com/en/our-company/news-and-announcements/news-releases/2017/corporate/2017sep06-blue-river-technology/
- John Deere as CES Honoree: https://www.ces.tech/Innovation-Awards/Honorees/2020/Honorees/J/John-Deere-8RX-Tractor.aspx - John Deere Precision Ag Technology: https://www.deere.com/en/technology-products/precision-ag-technology