CES, or what was once called the Consumer Electronics Show, has become a kind of center-of-the-universe for technology. And since 2019, John Deere has been sharing the technology at work in agriculture story with visitors to the show. For 2021, CES went fully virtual, and while the show lost a big chunk of exhibitors, John Deere took part.
“One of the great things that comes out of this is farmers really appreciate us telling their story to a tech audience,” said Lane Arthur, vice president of data, applications and analytics for John Deere.
But this year, Lane and his colleagues were doing that work not on a show floor in Las Vegas, but from an impromptu studio set up in the lobby of Deere's world headquarters in Moline, Ill.
“In our first year at CES, we had a combine on the show floor,” Arthur said. “Second year, we had our sprayer and we highlighted spraying. This year, we're highlighting the whole planting solution.”
He noted that if the live show had gone on in Las Vegas, an ExactEmerge planter would have been pulled into the exhibit for techies to see.
The Deere exhibit at the live show has been very interactive, with plenty of experts to explain just what the company had on hand. In 2019, tech visitors to CES were shocked to find the level of automation farmers are using to raise food. In 2020, they marveled at the giant boom of a spray rig but learned about precision spraying (and found out the boom folded so the machine could travel down the road).
Creating an exhibit
At the Moline headquarters, the studio setup includes an 8RX tractor and a 16-row ExactEmerge planter, and ahead of the event, media received tractor and planter toys to show more tool details. And some tech media received virtual reality headsets so they could see planting from a whole new angle.
Arthur spoke to Farm Progress from that Moline “studio,” discussing the need to tell the farm tech story to the new audience.
The company also netted innovation awards, in 2020 for the 8RX tractor, and in 2021 for the X9 combine. And for 2021, a key word crept into the dialogue about farm equipment at work — robotics.
“It's part of our effort to try to translate what we do with technology for a tech audience,” Arthur said. “And they think about the world in terms of robotics. They think in terms of automation, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Arthur notes. “It's our effort to translate what we deploy from a technology point of view to that tech audience. And that's why we use the word robot.”
And Deere is deploying automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence in different ways in its machines. The artificial intelligence at work in the X9 combine to manage the harvest using cameras is one example.
Talking to a tech audience
During the virtual CES experience, Deere experts conducted presentations as they were interviewed by tech media. Farm Progress sat in on the sessions to learn more. It was also a chance to listen to key Deere experts as they explained the technology at work.
Jahmy Hindman, chief technology officer of John Deere, was interviewed by Michael Josh from Gadget Match. Hindman shared information to the tech audience that might be familiar news to a farmer.
Josh said he watched video of the 8RX at work planting, noting it was “a really high-tech machine, almost like a self-driving car.”
Answered Hindman: “In many respects [the tractor] is a self-driving car, and we've used technology like this for almost 20 years. It's really important for row crops to be planted in a very straight way.”
The focus of this year's exhibit was planting, noting the precision needed to get seed in the ground. Information that farmers take for granted is news for the average consumer or technology editor.
Hindman explained that when planting corn at 36,000 seeds per acre, you're putting down 100 seeds per second for corn. At 80,000 population for soybeans, that’s 200 seeds per second for each row unit. Farmers probably don't think about it that way, but when that planter is moving at 10 mph, precision is even more important.
Hindman noted that the planter and tractor together have 300 sensors at work, and more than 140 controllers to maintain precision. And all those tools are connected and provide information the farmer can use later.
Like many companies at CES, bringing forward the technology at work and sharing how new tools are deployed provides a chance to attract new recruits to the company. There's a rising need for employees more focused on data, electronics and telematics than on agronomy at farm equipment firms. CES is one place to find that talent.
The microsite Deere set up for CES is open to the public. It includes a fun test on planting a crop, and there's a virtual look at the journey of a seed. Learn more at johndeere.com/ces2021.