Is John Deere in gear for a spraying revolution?

Although there has been no official announcement from John Deere, a couple of straws blowing in the wind suggest the likelihood of big changes coming in its approach to crop spraying machinery and technology.

It was comments made at the company’s earnings call in late May that set the rumour mill going in the U.S.

Pressed on what had become of the Blue River acquisition back in 2017, at a cost of $305 million, the president of John Deere’s agricultural and turf division: large and precision agriculture, Cory J. Reed said:

“It’s an exciting time because our first commercial product of that is hitting the market this year.

“So we talked about ‘See & Spray Select’, which is the first version. That’s a green on brown solution, but it’s really the very first of a series of technologies we will launch from Blue River that help enable us to move from field down to plant level in terms of how we manage the crop,” he added.

Green on brown is the term John Deere has adopted for detecting weed plants in stubble or pre-emergence crops and spot spraying them.

Implementing technology

Although the technology is not particularly novel – Amazone announced a similar system in May – this is the first time that a major full line manufacturer has indicated it is launching this capability.

John Deere with drill
The company manufactures a range of implements as well as tractors

What’s more, the technology has been developed completely in-house and does not rely on a consortium of specialist companies working together to create the end product.

It would also appear to be ready to go to market this year, as opposed to the Amazone and other robotic machines which are still in the trial stages.

John Deere plan

Yet there might be a lot more revealed by Corey J. Reed’s answer than first meets the eye.

It is obviously intended that the ‘See & Spray’ system will be the foundation of something much larger, and there no doubt exists a roadmap of where the company is heading with it.

A hint of just where that might be is contained in Reed’s follow-up response: “Next year we will be in the market with ‘See & Spray Ultimate’ and being able to deliver what we’ve been talking about.”

It is widely believed that ‘See & Spray Ultimate’ will distinguish between crop and weed plants, enabling the removal of the latter.

To what level is not known, but should it become possible to take blackgrass out of cereals, as some smaller robotic companies are working on, then JD is on to a winner.

Mazzoti self propelled sprayer
Mazzoti is a wholly owned subsidiary of John Deere and its sprayers are gradually being updated with JD components and technology

Yet, the greatest revelation may be contained in Reed’s final words:

“[We will] be able to move from how we do a lot of the work today at the field level or even down to the zone level and manage at the individual plant level.

“At the end of the day, it’s about driving greater profitability through higher yield and being able to manage costs for our customers.”

On the face of it that is clear enough, John Deere is going to design more effective and efficient machines for farmers.

Yet the tone of his remarks and other items such as the right to repair debate, and the continuing centralisation of data handling through Connected Farm Management, might suggest that the company is planning to provide farming operations as a service, rather than just sell tractors.

That would indeed be a revolution in the relationship between farmers and machinery manufacturers, and not just in spraying.