Agricultural machinery manufacturer Deere & Company, better known as John Deere, has announced it will acquire Blue River Technology, a Silicon Valley-based specialist in machine learning and robotics for precision agriculture, for $305 million.
Blue River’s ‘see-and-spray’ robots are fixed to tractors and use computer vision to identify plants in a field, to ‘see’ if they are in need of fertilizer, pesticide or other crop management procedures. The robots are primarily used on lettuce, cotton and other specialty vegetable crops.
Blue River had previously raised some $31 million in venture capital funding and claims that its ‘precision farming’ technology can save farmers up to 90 percent of the volume of chemicals they might use with more traditional approaches. And if farmers are being more efficient in their use of fertilizer or pesticide, presumably, then they may free up money to invest in more machinery.
According to Blue River’s website, the company is also developing a ‘LettuceBot’ for “precision lettuce thinning” and a drone imaging system that collects data from fields.
“Blue River is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm management decisions from the field level to the plant level,” said Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of Blue River Technology. “We are using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field.”
In addition to new technologies, the acquisition gives Deere a 60-person team specializing in precision agriculture in Sunnyvale, California to work on new developments.
Other companies targeting smart farming are thinking along similar high-tech lines: Monsanto (which recently scrapped plans to sell its Precision Planting unit to Deere) struck a deal with biotech company ToolGen to develop farm products in mid-August, while DuPont bought agriculture analytics firm Granular around the same time.