Blue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation

One of Blue River’s R&D See & Spray rigs hard at work in a cotton field outside of Lubbock, TX, in July 2017.

No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord John Deere.

That’s according to both sides of the buzz-generating, $305 million dollar acquisition the two companies jointly announced last week.

Heraud, fast becoming a friend to us here at PrecisionAg® Professional after we spent a few days with him and his team in Lubbock, TX, back in July as they honed See & Spray’s herbicide delivery accuracy amidst the stubbly West Texas cotton farmscape, was downright giddy upon our connecting via telephone late last Friday afternoon.

“I am happy and delighted, I really think Deere is going to be a good partner for us,” he shared. “One of the things I’m happiest about is that, John Deere is acquiring us to accelerate us. They’re putting more fuel on our fire.”

I, as well as many others around the industry, had a few initial misgivings about the Deere takeover: How would Deere’s large corporate structure influence Blue River’s nimble, grounded-in-field-work market approach? Would Moline keep Heraud and Co. around to see the 99-yard touchdown drive they launched back in 2011 from a little garage in Salinas, CA, culminate in points, or bring in its own engineering substitutes?

Heraud, as well as Deere’s Deanna Kovar, both quickly assured me that day-to-day operation at Blue River would remain under the purview of those in Sunnyvale.

“The whole idea on (Deere) buying Blue River is to keep us nimble, and we’re going to be operating as a subsidiary of John Deere,” he clarifies. “I’ll report to Deere’s ISG group, but everybody at Blue River will continue to report through me. We’re staying nimble and fast, and we’re going to just have a lot of expertise coming to us.”

“We don’t want to change the focus for them at all with this acquisition,” Kovar adds. “We just want to help them to bring it to life even further, and then help them figure out how else the combination of Blue River and John Deere can help farmers lower their costs and increase yields.”

Although the Deere deal brings significantly deeper pockets to Blue River’s repertoire — not to mention John Deere’s vast, world renowned equipment manufacturing and engineering resources — the go-forward development and commercialization plan Heraud outlined in our August profile of See & Spray remains intact.

“That’s exactly the plan,” Heraud responds when asked if soybeans are still the next target for R&D. “In 2018 we’ll continue to work deeper into cotton, and in addition to that be working with the machine in soybeans, and the goal is still to be doing more or less what we were doing in 2017, but to be doing it in 2018 in soybeans.”

Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud.

The issues around dicamba application this summer throughout the country helped crystallize that game plan, according to Heraud.

“Soybeans really need it,” he says of See & Spray-like technology. “There has been a lot of good things with dicamba, and also things that were unintended, like drift and volatilization. Volatilization is a big one, and our machine can help with that by using a lot less herbicide. We help reduce that threat in a big way, and obviously that makes soybeans a more urgent target for us.”

Beyond See & Spray

From the Deere side of things, Kovar makes it quite clear that Moline saw a lot more potential in Blue River than just its LettuceBot and the coming See & Spray rig.

“We think machine learning is not just about the sprayer,” Kovar shares. “We didn’t go after a company like Blue River just because of See & Spray. It’s about these same capabilities that we feel can be applied to every aspect of farming. It’s about making a farm as efficient as possible.”

Kovar and Deere feel that, by applying machine learning and artificial intelligence across every aspect of every operation, the equipment giant can help lessen the burden its operators shoulder on a daily basis in what many feel is currently one of the least automated industries in the world.

“There’s just an unlimited amount of decisions that we put on an operator every day, and those operators do an amazing job in the field, but we can automate more and more of that and it makes their lives much easier,” she explains. “It’s kind of like the beginning of AutoTrac. Very few farmers at the time were asking to automate the steering job, but once they experienced it and learned about the reduction in inputs, it became something that is not replaceable. Now sometimes if AutoTrac is down farmers just stop farming.”

I suppose it also bares noting that Heraud indicated during our brief discussion that Blue River’s technology potentially will not be limited to hanging out in Deere’s precision farming and ag equipment sectors, but could find new applications in the equipment giant’s construction vertical, among other varied industries where Blue River currently doesn’t dabble.

And now, no longer burdened with having to chase the proverbial venture capital funding dragon to keep its development and to-market work afloat, perhaps Blue River has the perfect mix of funding, manufacturing and distribution capabilities, as well as engineering backing, to take its intriguing future vision of a production system where management decisions are no longer made on a field-level, but on an individual plant-by-plant basis, mainstream. Deere, for one, seems to also believe in a future where ag decisions reach that level of extreme granularity.

“Our visions of needing to apply technology to make that notion of going from a field-level decision to a plant-level decision were very much aligned. When you pair that with Deere’s world class ability to develop and manufacturer equipment, it just brings a great level of speed to both sides.”

Deere is expected to close on the deal by mid-month, according to sources.

RELATED: Jorge Heraud to speak on “Automation, Robotics, and Machine Learning” at PrecisionAg Vision Conference in October.


Leave a Reply

Robotics/Labor Savers Stories
Robotics/Labor SaversWill We Pay Robots by the Hour? [Opinion]
August 28, 2018
I’ve attended a fair number of grower seminars around the country on the potential new technology headed for the farm, Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversWhat’s the Future of Orchard Robotics in Pennsylvania?
August 28, 2018
During the past several decades, agriculture, in general, has made advancements as a result of automation and precision management technologies. However, Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversHow Technology Will Influence Farms of the Future, Change Way Crops are Produced
August 24, 2018
From the invention of hoes, scythes and ploughs to the introduction of tractors, innovation is at the heart of agriculture, Read More
AmericasSciFi in Ag: Rolls Royce Tech On Your Planter? Robotic Bugs for Maintenance?
July 31, 2018
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Trending Articles
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for’s sister site, This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
EventsAg Experts Discuss Big Data Challenges in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Agricultural experts at a Houston conference praised the advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors, and data-collecting technology used in precision Read More
AmericasStrider, Syngenta and Trends in Digital Agriculture
September 5, 2018
I recently attended Strider Day in São Paulo, an event hosted by Brazilian agtech company Strider. The event offered two Read More
Industry NewsAgworld Strengthens Team with Key Appointments
September 5, 2018
Agworld, a global leader in farm management software and collaborative data solutions, has announced the appointment of Mike Betts as Read More