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Video: precision spraying firm to join the John Deere family

A California company known for taking precision farming to the individual plant level with technology such as its weed sensing and spot-spraying systems is to become part of the John Deere family.

Deere & Co is investing US$305m to fully acquire Blue River Technology and gain a leading position in computer vision and machine learning systems, much as it did with GPS guidance, connectivity and optimisation by acquiring NavCom Technology in the late 1990s.

Precision spraying firm to join the John Deere family

The Blue River See & Spray system uses cameras and computer software to locate and identify weeds in order to give them a tailored shot of herbicides. Deere believes the technology can be applied to other machines in future.

Jorge Heraud, co-founder and CEO of Blue River Technology, says the company is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm-management decisions from field level to plant level.

Blue River Technology

“We’re using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field,” he explains.

Deere’s John May, president, Agricultural Solutions, is confident similar technology can be used on a wider range of equipment in future and plans to keep the 60-person Blue River team intact to maintain its entrepreneurial spirit for growth and innovation.

So far, the team has developed See & Spray, a tractor-mounted row crop sprayer that identifies individual weeds and applies an appropriate herbicide, and LettuceBot, an implement that thins lettuce crops by identifying the plants that will contribute most to yield and taking out others with a fertiliser overdose.

See & Spray system

Apart from reducing input cost and environmental impact, the See & Spray system can help tackle resistant weeds by allowing non-selective herbicides to be used on weeds located beyond a safe buffer zone around crop plants.

Blue River uses aerial sensing by drone rotorcraft to assess the performance of its technologies and for phenotyping to help accelerate sorghum energy crop breeding development in a programme with the US Department of Energy.