John Deere’s chief technology officer put the brakes on the expectation for speedy electrification of large farm equipment.
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Speaking at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Jahmy Hindman was one of four John Deere executives who delivered the keynote address at the yearly coming-out party for new technology. It was the first time an agriculture company took the big stage in Las Vegas. The address was livestreamed and can be found on YouTube.
Hindman delivered the reality check portion of the presentation, in particular how it relates to environmental impact and fuel.
Deere has several initiatives that use precision technology to reduce environmental impact.
The company announced a new variable rate starter fertilizer system at the show. Hindman says the ExactShot technology could reduce the use of starter fertilizer on corn in the United States by more than 60 per cent.
See and Spray technology, which applies herbicides to weeds only in a growing crop, could save farmers $1 billion in herbicide reduction use, according to Hindman. See and Spray types of technologies, several in development, could fundamentally shift the pesticide market.
I expect that $1 billion number will evolve as pesticide companies, which will continue to provide important services to farmers to eliminate those individual weeds, figure out what their new economic model could be.
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A third area of influence for John Deere is in how equipment is powered, and Hindman delivered a valuable reality check about the future of electrification for high-powered field equipment. It isn’t coming soon.
I hear farmers deride electrification and no one who understands field equipment ever said it was going to arrive quickly for large tractors. It makes great sense in smaller equipment, automobiles and short-haul delivery vehicles. John Deere unveiled its first electric mini-excavator at the show, for example, with batteries supplied by Kreisel Electric, which Deere acquired in February 2022. In construction, electrified equipment will operate quieter and with less pollution in urban areas.
However, Hindman supplied numbers that told the story well.
“Some of you might find this statement controversial, but the path to a sustainable future does not only run through electrification to power vehicles,” said Hindman. “Electrification of high horsepower vehicles faces steep technical challenges.”
Tractors now perform highly complicated tasks with extreme precision. That takes power, along with the power needed to turn the wheels.
An 8R tractor can put in a 14-hour day, running continuously at 75 per cent of its peak power, or 230 kilowatts. That’s equivalent in energy to 38 Tesla Model 3 long-range batteries, said Hindman. Together, those batteries would be 48,000 pounds, double the weight and size of the tractor, and would make the tractor four times more expensive.
Think of the soil compaction problems from a tractor of that scale for the power produced.
That’s why John Deere continues to look to four different power sources for its machines. Hindman says it’s important that all options be used.
The four areas are biofuels, electric, hybrid-electric and advancements to internal combustion engines.
Biofuels, which reduce carbon intensity, will continue to play a role in power for larger vehicles, he says.
Other tractor companies, specifically New Holland, have had working hydrogen and methane-power tractors but haven’t brought them to market.
I’ve been a bit miffed that John Deere has used this show – a mainstream consumer show — to make its big announcements instead of doing it at its own events or major farm shows, but I can see why.
The advantages are many for John Deere. The buzz is bigger and broader, as the company positions itself as a technology company much larger than motive power and steel implements. That positioning can help with recruitment and provide a platform to deliver news to the mainstream, where it needs to be heard.
And we in agriculture still get the message.