GLOBAL machinery manufacturer, John Deere, has affirmed the right of Australian farmers to repair the company’s range of tractors and machinery, but draws the line at producers modifying the high-tech equipment.
Addressing the Queensland Rural Press Club in Brisbane yesterday, John Deere’s recently-appointed Australia/New Zealand managing director, Luke Chandler, clarified the company’s stance on repairing or altering equipment.
“We continue to support our customers’ right to service and maintain their equipment. Not only do we support that right, we make a lot of tools, videos and support for them to do that if that is the choice they make,” he said.
“The misunderstanding is around modification. What we don’t support is access to and modifying embedded codes within the machines.”
Mr Chandler said the company’s opposition to farmer modification was for reasons of safety, environmental protection and machine performance.
“The main one is around safety. Modifying code in a large tractor or combine can increase safety risks,” he said.
“There is also the impact on environmental risks. By modifying embedded codes you can increase the environmental emissions and environmental footprint of the machinery.
“The last reason is around the productivity of the machine itself.”
We continue to support our customers’ right to service and maintain their equipment…..What we don’t support is access to and modifying embedded codes within the machines.
Responding to the suggestion that preventing farmers modifying their equipment would stifle the on-farm innovation that has traditionally driven John Deere product development, Mr Chandler said the company would continue to draw on farmer input in an era of increasing technological advances.
“The advancements in technology and embedded codes on machines have changed really rapidly. Our ExactEmerge planter, for example, has a million lines of code going through it as it goes through the field. The industry is trying to understand what all that means,” he said.
“We have a proud history of collaborating with Australian farmers and innovating together. We want to continue to do that.”
Supply line challenges
Asked what John Deere was doing to ensure product supply to Australian farmers at a time of global COVID disruption, coinciding with a turnaround in the season in Australia that had seen tractor and machinery sales reach record levels, Mr Chandler said it was a substantial challenge.
“With Deere, we have really strong markets around the world. Commodity prices have been increasing, so we are seeing (machinery) demand increasing in a lot of our markets at the same time as we have the added complexity of COVID issues on our global supply chain,” he said.
“We are managing through it, making sure our customers get the products they need. With some products there are some longer delays than normal.
“As a company, we have re-engineered a lot of our factory floors to make sure we protect our people and keep them safe and healthy while still maintaining production.
“In parts of the US where COVID is rampant, asking people to come in and work on a factory floor you have to keep them socially distanced, comply with all the rules and regulation, and still keep producing.
“There is strong demand in a lot of parts of the world and some challenges in supply, but we are trying our best to make sure our customers get their products.”
Looking ahead, Mr Chandler said global agriculture was at an inflection point with the adoption of more technologically advanced, precision equipment.
“Historically, as an ag equipment manufacturer, the traditional focus has been about building bigger, faster, stronger, more efficient machinery. Farmers have all been chasing economies of scale,” he said.
“That is still important, but as we shift towards the next frontier of agriculture we are really seeing machinery being driven by automation, ease of use, and more precise technologies and artificial intelligence.
“Historically farmers have managed by farm or by field, but as we have gone along the technological journey through GPS and field mapping farmers are now able to manage their farms by sections and get a deeper level of control.
“In the next wave of technology, we feel farmers will have the ability to manage on a row-by-row and even a plant-by-plant basis as machine learning and smart machines can make in-farm decisions.”
Mr Chandler said John Deere had recently acquired high-tech firm, Blue River Technology, to drive the next generation of machinery.
“The technologies Blue River have are deep learning algorythms and artificial intelligence which, if we can embed on the hard iron of John Deere machines, can take productivity to the next level,” he said.
“For example, if you embed that technology onto a sprayer the sprayer can learn to tell the difference between a weed and a plant. That means you don’t need to broadacre spray herbicide, it can focus just on the weeds. We have shown we can reduce herbicide use by as much as 80 per cent by using some of these technologies.”
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