Q&A: John Deere’s Deanna Kovar on the future of precision ag

Like many publicly-traded companies in the technology sector, John Deere faces the tension between prepping for Wall Street and quarterly earnings calls while also investing in research for the future. Deere recently completed its first Technology Summit in Austin, Texas, where it described goals for autonomous tractors and all-electric farm and construction equipment.

Earlier this year, the company published another annual sustainability report describing a “significant shift to over 50% renewable electricity.”

Some of the company’s longer-term research looks into how deep to plant seeds (by relying on farmer-share data) and how much to water and fertilize those seeds since soil composition can vary significantly over a piece of ground as small as 6x6 feet.

Deere’s research intrigues farmers, scientists and analysts alike, and the company continues to bet its research will ultimately affect its bottom line, even as the past year has produced an 11% decline in share price. At the close of its first Deere Technology Summit, Fierce Electronics asked Deere veteran Deanna Kovar, vice president of of production and precision ag systems to comment on directions.

FE: How well do you think Deere is doing on the more futuristic concerns of farmers and people in construction? 

Kovar: Every new machine, technology investment, or goal is determined by our customers’ needs. Farmers and construction crews face similar challenges – providing essential goods and infrastructure for a growing population with less available skilled labor and resources. Our main goal is to leverage technology like robotics, automation, CVML, sensors, and more to help our customers work efficiently, productively, and sustainably to meet these demands while maximizing their quality of life. Whether it’s an electric excavator to minimize noise pollution and get more jobs done in a workday or a fully autonomous tractor to help farmers make the most of limited labor during a busy season, everything Deere offers helps to solve some of the most pressing challenges in agriculture and construction.

FE: At the Tech Summit, you had demos of EVs for a backhoe on the farm and slideware on soil and data and sustainability. Could you describe the level of attention Deere is making on these areas?

Kovar: There is only one planet Earth, and its resources are taxed by an ever-expanding global population. For our customers and for us, sustainability is about both the environment and economics. It’s necessary to feed, fuel, clothe and shelter an increasing global population, and it’s necessary for our customers’ businesses. That’s why we’re not just passionate about innovating sustainable solutions but committed to it. As part of our annual sustainability report, in February 2022, we announced our Leap Ambitions which are focused goals designed to boost economic value and sustainability for our customers. We outlined how our ambitions align across our customers’ production systems to optimize their operations and deliver better outcomes with fewer resources. Some of our goals are to connect 1.5 million machines and demonstrate viable low/no carbon alternative power solutions by 2026. This is all part of our focus on our customers to ensure we’re delivering what they need to do the important work they need to do every day in the face of challenges.

FE: Companies face a constant state of planning for a good quarter compared to planning for the longer term.  Deere’s goals for 2030 are fairly long term, but can you go ever further?

Kovar: Deere has been innovating for 186 years to solve customer needs. This is the foundation of Deere’s tech leadership today. Deere’s vision meets the needs of its customers now and in the future to do more with less. While we’ve defined specific goals, we continue to assess our progress and create new goals that center on customers’ needs. We’ll always innovate on behalf of our customers, whether it’s for 10, 20, or 50 years from now.

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