Agricultural fields are no less than a battlefield. Irrespective of terrain, geography and type, crops have to compete against scores of different weeds, species of hungry insects, nematodes and a broad array of diseases. Weeds, or invasive plants, aggressively compete for soil nutrients, light and water, posing a serious threat to agricultural production and biodiversity. Weeds directly and indirectly result in tremendous losses to the farm sector, which convert to billions each year worldwide. To combat these challenges, the farm sector is looking at Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions.
The food and agriculture chain is one of the most promising industries where the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring about transformational changes. And this transformation includes building smart farm machines to manage crops at the plant level. To that end, John Deere Labs, which opened its doors earlier this year, made its first major deal on September 6, spending $305 million to acquire Blue River Technology, a startup with computer vision and machine learning technology that can identify weeds–making it possible to spray herbicides only where they're needed. Currently, on a global basis, $25 billion is spent each year on about 3.0 billion pounds of herbicides. This has resulted in over 250 species of weeds now considered resistant to herbicides.
Automated farming equipment has perhaps never been a hotter topic than right now. Adding fuel to the fire, farm equipment giant John Deere had a big splash at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, NV. Last year was a tough act to follow. In 2019, it exhibited its machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) enabled S-Series combine. This year, Deere brought out the big guns with its R4038 sprayer.
Blue River develops equipment that can be used by agricultural specialists and producers to optimize their daily work. In turn, farmers can potentially reduce inputs and improve their overall bottom line. "We welcome the opportunity to work with a Blue River Technology team that is highly skilled and intensely dedicated to rapidly advancing the implementation of machine learning in agriculture," said John May, president of Agricultural Solutions and Chief Information Officer at Deere. "As a leader in precision agriculture, John Deere recognizes the importance of technology to our customers. Machine learning is an important capability for Deere's future."
John Deere, established in 1837 to manufacture hand tools, announced it had acquired Blue River Technology, founded in 2011, late Wednesday. John Stone, an executive in the company's intelligent-solutions group, says Blue River's computer-vision technology will help Deere's equipment view and understand the crops it is working with. Stone says that Blue River's technology can make a larger impact on productivity because it makes decisions up close, on the ground. That system can target weeds with squirts of herbicide no larger than a postage stamp.