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Deere unveils future at tech summit

Some of it seemed like pure fantasy. A farmer is seen managing his operation by moving icons on a large, air-borne screen in his office. Like a character in science fiction, he fathoms the weather, monitors his far-away fleet and writes agronomic prescriptions--all with a flick of the wrist. A voice informs the farmer that “row crop tractor 14 has stopped.”

Meanwhile, equipment in the field steers itself, responds to field and weather conditions, and carries on a kind of digital conversation with the dealer. The farmer uses his handheld device to scan a corn leaf and sees a cellular picture of its health.

And all the data you need to know about your farm is right at your fingertips, literally, on a smartphone.

When the lights came up after this futuristic film, media and securities analysts were given a chance to do a reality check with top Deere officials. For two hours, the dialogue dug into the actual progress Deere is making with its visionary thinking.

The setting for the give-and-take was the John Deere Technology Summit, held in Des Moines, Iowa, June 28-29.

On the basis of this conference, Deere has seemed to have been abandoned its conservative approach to new technology launches. Traditionally, the company has closely guarded its ideas until the product or service is dealer ready. No longer.

“The idea is to show you what the possibilities are down the road,” spokesman Barry Nelson told “We’ve always been good at iron, but now with this new vision we’re going to be involved in all the technologies farmers need. It’s kind of like when we first got involved in the tractor business.”

The list of Deere’s technology products is on the rise, Deere representatives told the gathering. They discussed new ideas from telematics, global positioning technology, Internet communications, and other corners of high tech. Some of the work is cross-pollinated with other industries, including Silicon Valley, auto manufacturing, and the mining industry.

The company terms its visionary product development FarmSight, which is defined as a “total solution that begins with understanding your needs, and provides a world-class experience by combining equipment, technology, and your John Deere dealer.”

The need for FarmSight is driven by global trends, said Jerry Roell, director of the visionary business unit. These include growing demand for food, greater markets volatility, growth in farm size and specialization, need for environmental sustainability, reduced skilled labor, and the emergence of precision agriculture, Roell said.

Demonstrations of FarmSight technology took place on Friday at a farm north of Des Moines. Here, media and analysts visited four stations to see the latest from the company think tank, including products tied to harvest identification (for cotton), mobile weather monitoring, implement detection, remote display, and more.

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