Farm equipment company John Deere is no stranger to the internet of things. It was connecting sensors and actuators on the farm twenty years ago. The next big thing in farming is what connected devices enable: precision agriculture. Precision Agriculture combines connected with devices with machine learning to have them make faster and more precise decisions, possibly without a farmer’s input.
To make precision ag the new reality, John Deere needs Silicon Valley skills. That’s why last week it opened an office in the SoMA area of San Francisco to connect with local talent.
Alex Purdy, head of John Deere Labs in San Francisco, says the hope is to find startups (or individuals) solving robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence problems that may be of use in agriculture.
“We know the center of gravity for that talent pool is here and we want to organically build that,” he says.
Purdy says he has a list of 50 problems that he thinks machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence can help solve ranked by how much impact they could have on farmers. For example, he’s looking for a way to deliver nutrients to plants at the right place and at the right time. Other efforts involve making better algorithms that can take advantage of the increasing number of sensors John Deere wants to add to its machinery.
The secondary goal of the office is to connect more deeply with Bay Area companies that already work with John Deere or its growers. For example, John Deere has a relationship with companies such as drone and satellite imagery company Mavericks; software providers FBN, FarmLogs and AgDNA and roughly 70 others.
John Deere is one of a long line of companies building Bay Area offices in hopes of attracting technical talent. Industrial heavyweights from GE to Ford have built up presences in Silicon Valley and San Francisco in the last decade as they realize the import of getting more technically savvy.
However, San Franciscans might find themselves surprised by how reliant farmers already are on tech and John Deere’s efforts to bring them to that point.