Off Highway 528, turn right on the gravel road. Calves dot the pasture land for as far as the eye can see and beyond. After a piece, make a left at the gate and enter the training farm for one of the world’s largest equipment and technologies companies.
It’s winter and raining, but don’t worry. It’s early morning, and the sun will eventually punch through this part of Florida just east of Orlando.
We’re headed to the steel building up ahead, the headquarters for John Deere’s 600-acre training center. Green iron, large and small sprawls near and far. A 100-acre lake acts as a gravitational center of the place. A halve dozen big white tents stationed around it. Beware of Alligators signs posted along its bank.
John Deere leases the land for the facility from the Deseret Ranch, which owns and works more than 100,000 acres in the area. Four years ago, John Deere began sending its dealers and salespeople (and sometimes customers) from around the country to this vast mix of wetlands and grass prairies to receive hands-on experience with the company’s latest machines and technology offerings, from lawnmowers to grain combines from next generation data analytics to forage harvesters. About 400 pieces of equipment are used on location at various times for specific training programs.
The center operates about nine months a year and can train several thousand people in that time using a dozen full-time staff and a rotation of about 200 instructors from across the country “who come from various areas of the company, using their expertise and knowledge to help transfer that so everyone has an understanding of how our machines work,” said Aaron Vancil, who manages the facility.
In January, the team wrapped up a three-month training session targeting its precision agriculture program, Vancil said. John Deere wants to be the one-stop solution for farmers to leverage data into actionable plans. But to do that, farmers first want a clear understanding that such tactics and technology can make economic sense for their operations. To that end, the center prepared employees to present those solutions with experience under their belts.
For the team’s ‘Large Ag Integrated Solutions Training,’ the mantra of the day was “Every Pass Matters,’ the affirmation that every time a piece of equipment armed with prescription mapping or guidance goes into a field there is opportunity to gather and implement intelligence.
For the training program, machines were equipped with JDLink. The company’s Operation Center software was used to manage data flow and control across equipment and devices, and most cabs had Connect Mobile and the Gen 4 CommandCenter display running Premium Activation.
The Large Ag Integrated Solutions Training is a detailed experience broken down into four separate stations. Here is an overview of what to expect if you ever find yourself at the training center in Orlando:
At the Field Prep Station, Kody Daniels showed the subtle cab suspension differences between 2019 and 2018 models of the 8370R with and without AutoTrac.
Luke Johnson performed tillage-prescriptions using TruSet, and monitored and ran equipment through a tablet using the My Operation App.
And Jose Calderon proudly talked about the virtues of the variable intensity-tillage of the 2660VT and the 26800H much like he was introducing a dear member of his family.
At the Seeding and Planting Station, trainers used the Operations Center tools to send field data and prescriptions to the tractor and planter. The Field Analyzer Beta, part of the Operation Center software, can be used to pull and compare specific field analyses based on yield, planting and mapping data.
A table-top model of a C850 Air Cart rested in the back of a big white tent. Hovering an iPad over the model brought it to virtual life on the screen.
The Application Station brought out the R4044 sprayer for a ride and a demonstration of the Row Sense and Vision features; JDLink shared wireless data transfer, and the Machine Sync map sharing, which enables machines to trigger section control on/off based on another machine's coverage in the field.
At the Harvest Station, trainers and trainees maneuvered virtual rows of corn with both tracked and wheeled S700 combines, and later experienced the S700 in-cab seat simulators for demonstrations on how Combine Advisor and ActiveYield work, along with Operation Center harvest data management.
Bridge to Startups
Joel Dawson was also at the Orlando training center that day. He is John Deere’s new director of production and precision ag. He said John Deere is reaching outside of its innovation silo and actively seeking collaborations with technology startups within, and maybe outside, the agriculture ecosystem.
John Deere wants to partner with startups to bridge the gap between product innovations and markets, moving research and development from the labs to farmers’ fields.
As an example of this company initiative, he pointed to Deere’s first appearance earlier in January at the CES 2019, the seminal consumer electronics showcase. The massive S-770 combine parked on the floor drew crowds who wanted to know more about the smart solutions being used on farms today.
They went with a mission to carry the mantle of agriculture innovation to a non-ag audience and to expand its reach outside agriculture. They also went looking for talent and opportunity.
When it comes to precision technology solutions in the future, more automation is on the way, Dawson said, but the improved interface of embedded technology today in machines can help a less-skilled operator become as good or better than a highly skilled operator. And that can benefit operational management across the farming landscape now.
Jose Calderon proudly discusses the variable intensity-tillage of the 2660VT at John Deere’s training facility in Orlando, Fla, in January.
iPad locks onto a table-top model of a C850 Air Cart and brings the model to virtual life on the screen.