John Deere on the intersection of technology and agriculture

On October 17, representatives from John Deere presented the Fall 2018 Hallene Lecture at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on the University of Illinois campus. Their topic was “Ready to make your mark in the world?  The future awaits your fingerprint,” and the lecture focused on the intersection of technology and agriculture.

Hallene Fall 2018 speakers
From left: John Stone, Jacqueline Kiple, and Willy Pell

The speakers quickly—and humorously—pointed out to the audience the importance John Deere’s work with farmers has in their lives. “I can assure you that you all care about what we are about to talk about,” John Stone, Senior Vice President at Intelligent Solutions Group at Deere pointed out. “You know how I know that? By a show of hands, who in here ate some food at any point in time today?”

Over the next hour, Stone and his colleagues from Deere—including Willy Pell, director of new technology of the Blue River Technology division of Deere, and Jacqueline Kiple, who works in strategic communications for Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group—presented the ways John Deere is working with cutting-edge technology to help farmers be more productive with the land they’ve been managing for generations.

Working on issues with farming technology are not easy. “It’s a hard problem,” Stone said. “It’s complicated. It has a lot of variables, it’s not easy and there’s a ton of forces working against it. Labor shortages, unpredictable weather, and commodity prices…all of these impact their bottom line.”

Kiple explained, “We’re changing the way the world farms.” Tractors from Deere can now come with upwards of 150 sensors on one vehicle. And the total sensor output for John Deere products across the globe is 13-15 million sensor measurements per second. “This is about finding new and better ways to help our farmers be more profitable while continuing to take of their land,” Kiple said. “Technology is really changing that.”

Pell joined Deere when the startup he worked for, Blue River Technology, was acquired by John Deere. Blue River Technology was bringing computer innovation into the farm industry, and directly addressed the issue of herbicides in fields. Using machine learning, Blue River Technology developed a system that could recognize and categorize a plant as a crop or a weed in real-time in the field. Those plants identified as weeds would be sprayed with herbicide, but crops would remain unsprayed. Using systems like this, Deere is developing technologies to more precisely apply nutrients and herbicide where needed to grow the most food.

The solutions that John Deere is coming up with are important, because they have real impact across the globe for farmers and consumers. “Over the next 30 years, there will be another two to two and a half billion people on the planet,” Stone said. “Just like you, they’ll want to eat something. And we’re helping our farmers to feed them.”

About the Hallene Lecture Series
The Hallene Lecture Series honors the memory of Alan M. Hallene (’51), former president of Montgomery Company in Moline, Illinois. He served as president of both the Alumni Association and the U of I Foundation Board of Directors. He was the recipient of two of the University’s highest honors: the Alumni Association Achievement Award and the U of I Foundation’s Presidents Award.

In 2001, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation made a gift to The Hoeft Technology & Management Program to establish this lecture series. The gift honors Mr. Hallene, who was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Board of Directors. Mr. Hallene passed away in April 2004, and he is survived by his wife Phyllis and children Alan Jr., Carol, Janet, and James.