John Deere’s tech-fueled mission to feed a hungry world, one seed at a time

John Deere’s message for CES 2021 was wrapped around three key themes, driving Deere’s goal of helping farmers increase productivity and precision:

  1. Global food demand is expected to increase by 50% by 2050.
  2. To meet that growing need, agricultural productivity must increase significantly.
  3. The optimal planting window is just ten days, which means precision is everything.

To address the need for both higher productivity and precision, in 1994 the company introduced the first of a series of Precision Ag machines that address crop management from planting to protection to harvesting. With regular new model introductions, Deere engineers have looked to leverage the most advanced technologies and mechanical innovations,  where it makes sense for performance, productivity, and precision gains. (In a recent interview with Fierce Electronics, Deere said that it releases new features three times a year on the embedded side and six times a year on the digital side and that’s not counting major rollouts of new equipment models.)

As a case in point, on the highly automated 8RX Tractor and 60-ft, 24-row planter showcased at CES 2021, 300 sensors and controllers process up to 15,000 measurements per second per machine on a typical day of planting. That kind of data is crucial for precision speed placement and uniform spacing, which factor enormously in crop yields.

Data is also critical in helping farmers make decisions in order to meet the narrow window of opportunity to get a crop planted, for example  Once we gain an understanding of the true issues they’re facing, we can go about collecting the right data that gives them actionable information. For example, if farmers know a rainstorm is coming, that could mean making the decision to get more seeds planted in advance of the impending bad weather.

At this year’s CES Innovation Awards, Deere won accolades for its X-Series Combine Harvester, a high-capacity machine that gathers ripe crops from the field, which snagged a Best of Innovation Award in the Robotics Category. The 8RX Tractor was an Honoree in the Tech for a Better World Category at last year’s CES and was showcased at this year’s CES media event.

One of the notable innovations on the tractor is more surface area where it contacts the ground, designed to distribute the pressure exerted by the tractor as it traverses the field, protecting delicate crops.

At a CES press event, Deere’s Dan Leibfried, director of automation and autonomy for the Intelligent Systems Group (ISG), was the guide for a virtual tour of the 8RX Tractor and 60-ft, 24-row planter in action. Leibfried emphasized speed and precision, along with some of the equipment features that enable high performance.

Instead of a traditional gravity tube delivery system, for example, the planter utilizes a pair of motors on each row unit that work independently to control the brush belt seed delivery system. With gravity no longer a concern, the speed of the motors driving the belt are synchronized to the travel speed of the tractor, allowing for speeds of 10 mph. That’s double the speed of traditional systems, resulting in a big boost in productivity.

GPS is standard on all of John Deere’s biggest machines, which allows the accuracy of cameras, sensors, and equipment to 2.5 cm, compared to the 4.9-meter accuracy of a typical GPS-enabled smartphone outdoors.

As for what’s coming next, Leibfried wouldn’t tip his hand. But in an interview last year with Fierce Electronics, Joel Hergenreter, manager of tech stack system test and validation, may have provided a clue when he talked about the advantages of 5G and the benefits it could bring to precision farming.