The Silicon Prairie

Cutting-edge tech down on the farm.

Precision agriculture technology drives the evolution of the most ancient of trades

Farming has a lot of challenges. You can plan everything but Mother Nature [interferes] or prices may fall and you still have to survive financially. There are a million choices to make but when you get it together, it’s really rewarding.” —Brad Rill, Lippy Brothers Inc.

With more than 30 years in the industry, born-and-bred farmer Brad Rill, of the Lippy Brothers farm, muses on its evolution: “I’ve been involved in agriculture my whole life – my grandfather had a farm – and I ended up going to the University of Maryland for agriculture. It can be hard to adopt but technology has certainly changed [farming] a lot. The hope is that it will make you more efficient by creating a better crop or it’ll save you money by using less products.”

Increasing both productivity and efficiency is at the heart of modern agricultural technology. Ryan Finch, Integrated Solutions Manager at John Deere dealer Finch Services Inc. guarantees that farming will continue modernizing to increase grower benefit. “Being in the world where technology intersects with the ag community…every week, we’re taking a step forward. The efficiency level we’re going to be able to achieve is like nothing we’ve seen before.”

This technology, and the benefits it offers, is made possible by industry experts who work in the field and behind the scenes. Read their stories to see how John Deere’s engineers and developers partner with dealers and growers to put farmers ahead of the curve.

In the Lab

The John Deere Virtual Reality (VR) Laboratory in Dubuque, Iowa, customers are testing new tractors—before they’re even built. As engineers design new equipment, VR engineers translate the designs to simulate real-life tractors within a controlled environment. Using a makeshift tractor seat equipped with operational controls, consumers can sit “inside” the new tractor and simulate its operation it by wearing an immersive motion-capture headset.

John Deere VR Engineer Kurt Chipperfield’s appreciation for the technology is more than screen-deep. “I’ve always loved VR, I got a masters and a PhD in the VR environment and decided I wanted to work for John Deere because I love tractors, too. It’s exciting showing the customers the new tractor designs before anyone else does. You see a customer understand what the new design is going to be like, and then they give us feedback on how to make the tractors more productive.”

In this space, VR is also used during product development to diagnose mechanical issues that could delay manufacturing. John Deere Ergonomics Analyst Janelle Haines specializes in workplace safety, and uses VR technology to guarantee proper measures with motion-tracked tools. “When we design new products, we don’t know how that’s going to affect the assemblers so we look at the biomechanics of putting the machine together. They pick up the tool and we can see the tool tracking so we see how it’d react in the real environment.”

It’s technology like this that fuels the design and production of equipment that works smarter and harder in the field.


On the Farm

Monday morning. 7 AM. It’s time to get to work.

The sprawling green corn fields at the Jensen Test Farm glisten under a hot sun, as operators test new equipment, like RowSense™ equipped self-propelled sprayers. The farm is the perfect place to test new products in a real-life setting.

But true innovation lies in solving real-time problems with active solutions. John Deere Program Manager Sheila Turnbull says, “We know that no grower farms alone so we’re working with other third-party solutions to get all of the information that a grower needs to help them be more efficient.” Ryan, from Finch Services Inc., explains that technology enables dealers to anticipate customer problems and quickly resolve them, helping them get back to work fast. “We create partnerships with customers on the technology side to provide top-level service. Thanks to technology, we’re being proactive instead of reactive diagnosing and fixing issues.”

Thanks to technology, we’re being proactive instead of reactive diagnosing and fixing issues.” —Ryan Finch, Integrated Solutions Manager

As longstanding family businesses, Lippy Brothers and Finch, have been working together for many years. Brad speaks to this relationship: “We’ve grown together. It’s good to work together with a dealership [because] Lippy Brothers Inc. always tries to be ahead of the pack and lead with new technology.” Ryan elaborates, “We’ll steer [farmers] first to AutoTrac™ because they see the benefit right away. They can activate it in their equipment which lets the tractor steer itself through GPS satellite, [giving] the operator time to achieve the rates he should. GPS also gives you better placement, which is key in crop growth.”

This automation may never have a farmer’s care or instincts in tending the fields, but it does put farmers a step ahead in improving their product and process at the same time.


On the Go

An open space fosters an open mind. That’s the theory behind John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) “we community” where developers create mobile applications for those linked to the land. John Deere Mobile Product Manager Nathan Greuel explains the consideration that goes into this process: “Our apps start with a market opportunity where we leverage our consumer Lead User Group to help us identify needs. We go to them with mockups and they validate the concepts and solution before development starts.” Having grown up on a farm, Nathan has a strong sense of what most helps growers. “As mobile technology is influenced within John Deere, I use a lot of those personal experiences having farm machinery, equipment and land.”


Now with 25 applications available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, ISG continues to serve as a resource to, among other things, foster the advancement of precision agriculture.

But the ultimate payoff is the agility the apps provide to the grower, right at their fingertips. When accurate information can be quickly accessed about a sprayer’s nozzle calibration, or lets the grower adjust a baler’s hitch, mobile becomes personal. This personalization is a big reason for its success. Nathan says, “The future of mobile technology becomes more connected to the user. The ability to notify users when there’s something happening allows customers to adjust their operation, optimize their job and save money.” Brad elaborates: “When you can’t visually see what’s going on, technology puts answers to questions.”

As the agriculture industry continues breaking barriers, innovators look ahead, dedicating their skills and time to helping farmers in new and exciting ways. Brad sums it up: “[Farming] is a lot of hard work but it’s really rewarding when things go right. You get a good sense of accomplishment. It’s something you can’t explain unless you’re a farmer and it’s in your blood.”




The Silicon Prairie


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