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Agco gears up for retrofit autonomy

Courtesy of Agco Farmer driving a tractor
RETROFIT AUTONOMY: Autonomous tractors are the future, and Agco wants to dominate the retrofit autonomous space — retrofitting existing machines for autonomy. The company believes its purchase of JCA Technologies will allow it to do just that.
The company recently purchased JCA Technologies, a Canadian company specializing in machine controls and autonomy.

You’ve heard of Challenger, Fendt and Massey Ferguson. They all fall under the Agco brand, and the company has developed some pretty good farm machines over the years.

But its recent acquisition of Canadian-based JCA Technologies is a sign of its goal to become the undisputed leader of the retrofit machinery space, with the end goal being retrofitting existing machines for autonomy.

“As an organization, we want to be the trusted partner for smart farming solutions,” Seth Crawford, senior vice president and general manager of Agco’s precision ag and digital division, said during a press conference Monday announcing the company’s purchase.

JCA’s engineering capabilities in the areas of machine controls and autonomous machine systems will position Agco to create a foundation for retrofit autonomy, said Bob Blakely, Agco’s manager of public relations.

JCA, based in Winnipeg, Alberta, has been around for 20 years and has historically focused on wire harnessing and electronics for original equipment manufacturers. But the company recently shifted its focus to machine control systems, smartphone and tablet app development, data management and communications, and the development of technology to support autonomous machines, said Darcy Cook, vice president and general manager of engineering for JCA.

It’s this expertise in machine controls that Crawford said makes JCA a good fit, along with the fact that JCA was looking to get into the retrofit space.

“We can’t get to autonomy without automating every human task,” Crawford said.

Much of the initial impact of the JCA acquisition will be seen through the company’s Precision Planting division, Crawford said, which it acquired five years ago. Precision Planting sells in-cab displays, smart seed firmers, electric drive systems and more to enable farmers to upgrade their existing equipment without having to buy new.

Agco’s busy year

It’s been a busy year since CEO Eric Hansotia took over the leadership of Agco from Martin Richenhagen, who retired last year after running the company since 2004.

Late last year, the company purchased Appareo, a North Dakota-based manufacturer of machinery technologies and telematics, and Creative Sites Media, an Illinois-based software and app development company.

Describing the past year as a “complete refresh,” Crawford said the company is focused on dominating the retrofit market to stand out from its competition.

With less than 300,000 new tractors sold in the U.S. in 2021, but with more than 3 million tractors ages 3 to 15 years old, Crawford said farmers want the ability to upgrade instead of just having to buy a new machine to keep up with the latest technology.

“They want to be able to apply technology to their existing products,” he said.

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