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What’s the next leap forward for John Deere?

Founded more than 180 years ago, John Deere’s origins began with the invention of the steel plow. Through the years, the iconic machinery company has transformed into a smart technology company. As it looks to the future of agriculture and how it can best support farmers, Deere has identified a new direction for what comes next. 

In 2020, Deere announced a new vision and operating model to accelerate success by integrating smart technology with the company’s manufacturing legacy. By focusing on delivering intelligent, connected machines and applications that will revolutionize production systems in agriculture as well as construction, the Deere Smart Industrial strategy unlocks customer economic value across the life of a product in ways that are sustainable for everyone. 

There are three key elements to the strategy’s model. 

  1. Production systems: Unlock value for the customer by making each step of the system more efficient.
  2. Technology stack: Enables machines to be smarter, more precise, and more productive.
  3. Lifecycle solutions: Add value throughout the life of the product, maximizing uptime and minimizing cost.

Yet, the strategy does not measure all that Deere can become.

Announced in its 2021 Sustainability Report, Leap Ambitions were created to measure that strategy. Designed to boost economic value and sustainability for Deere customers, Deanna Kovar says these focused goals offer a huge opportunity to help farmers find solutions that pay while supporting the environment, ultimately driving better outcomes with fewer resources. 

“In talking with farmers, the clear message was that they want to be sustainable. Their land is their legacy and anything they can do to nurture and protect it as well as their crops is important,” says Kovar, vice president, production & precision ag production systems at John Deere. “For them, it must be the marriage of economics and environmental.”

Deere has committed to achieving its ambitions within four-year (2026) and eight-year (2030) periods. 

Identifying Opportunities

As part of its plan, Deere wants to increase its digitally engaged acres from more than 315 million to 500 million worldwide, with 50% highly engaged by 2026, across 1.5 million connected machines.

The company also wants to help farmers improve nitrogen use efficiency 20% by 2030, which is a good indication of where the company will be focusing its “sense-and-act” investments in the coming years. 

Increasing crop protection efficiency 20% is another way Deere plans to enhance customers’ outcomes by 2030. Using sophisticated camera and nozzle control technology, See & Spray Select offers targeted herbicide application on unplanted ground. Launched in 2021, the green-on-brown technology can distinguish weeds from soil.

Unveiled this month, See & Spray Ultimate builds upon this technology, stepping up precision spraying for corn, soybeans, and cotton planted in 30-inch rows and wider.

Deere says its current technology stack is already saving cotton producers nearly $50 an acre (estimated) thanks to innovations like ExactApply, section control, and AutoTrac. By adding See & Spray Ultimate, this figure could jump even higher. And the company says this is just the beginning of “sense-and-act” technology in the field.

Incremental addressable market opportunity JD
Courtesy of John Deere.

While investing in new innovations is part of the path forward, Kovar says it’s also about looking at all the acres farmers have entrusted Deere with and underlining how they’re already impacting the environment.

“We want to highlight what we call our sustainably engaged acres, so people looking from the outside in can see how many farmers are already taking sustainable actions by using technology like AutoTrac, section control, and ExactApply, which is already available today,” Kovar says. “This isn’t like we went from 0 to 100 overnight. Farmers have been adopting technologies for 20 years, starting with yield monitors, GPS, AutoTrac, and eventually taking their data to the cloud. We’ve been on this journey.”

Now it’s about every farm taking one more step forward. “There are some farms that have adopted everything they can possibly adopt, and they’re ready for the next thing,” Kovar says. “But there are also farms that haven’t quite done everything the industry’s offered, but they’re ready to take that next step. The beautiful part about technology and agriculture is no matter where you are on the curve, you’re not being asked to adopt it all at once. We’re saying there are opportunities for you – that pay both economically and environmentally – to take the next step.”

Kovar says Deere dealers are perfectly positioned to help farmers see what opportunities are out there to change a practice on their farm or adopt a new tool that can help them economically and environmentally. “Things like getting farmers set up to leverage the value in the John Deere Operations Center so they can start measuring what they’re already doing is a huge part of what can be done today,” she says.

With Change Comes Challenges

Because agriculture is basically outdoor manufacturing, moving forward won’t come without its challenges.

“It’s the heterogeneous nature of agriculture. Every field, every farm, and every fleet is different, which makes it hard to say, ‘Here’s the next best economic and environmental tool you need,’ ” Kovar says. “We have an opportunity to pinpoint the right technology for the right farm in the right location at the right time. And data is going to enable us to help farmers figure out how to farm even better.”

Ultimately, she says this is not about going from no tech to all the tech. This is not about Big Brother coming in and telling farmers how to farm. This is thinking about what you have on your farm, what is the next tool that you could adopt, and incrementally working your way through the adoption process to create both economic and environmental value.

“At the end of the day, we are doing a lot of things that are different than 10 years ago,” Kovar says. “Now we have an opportunity to do even more and Deere can offer solutions to help. We want to ensure we’re giving farmers the credit for what they’re already doing but also get them thinking about how we can help them do even more.”

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