The ag giant is buying Blue River Technology for its machine learning-powered crop sprayers.
John Deere has long been known for its iconic green tractors, combines, balers, and other farming equipment. But in recent years, the Illinois-based agriculture giant has pushed into new, more high-tech and software-based businesses.
Late Wednesday, the company announced a bold step in that direction: It is shelling out $305 million for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Blue River Technology, a developer of crop-spraying equipment that relies on machine learning.
“We’ve been working together for about a year and a half, just to make sure that our strategies aligned,” John May, president of agricultural solutions and CIO at Deere, told Fortune.
In addition to new technologies, the acquisition gives Deere a 60-person team in the heart of Silicon Valley. (The company also recently opened a small office in San Francisco.) According to May, Deere will build upon the technology and intellectual property developed by Blue River—and, of course, eventually commercialize it and sell it to customers through its global dealer channels.
So what exactly is crop-spraying equipment that’s powered by machine learning? Blue River Technology says its products have integrated computer vision (and software smarts) that enables farmers to spray herbicides only where weeds are present. “These [sprayers] are better equipped for individual [weed] variants that we see on farms every single day,” says Lee Redden, co-founder and chief technology officer of Blue River. “It allows you to decrease the amount of herbicide you’re applying.”
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. From now on, you can count on those and all other future Blue River products being one color: green.
The transaction is expected to close in September.