AiThority Interview with Joel Dawson, Manager, Production & Precision Ag Marketing at John Deere
Please tell us about your role and the team / technology you handle at John Deere.
What key opportunities or experiences brought you to where you are today?
I have spent the past 19 years in a variety of roles at John Deere. These roles have ranged from sales/marketing and product support roles that engage directly with farmers and our dealer partners to manufacturing, product development and strategy roles that focus on our global business and future development. All along the way, I have been right in the center of Deere’s technology revolution in Production and Precision Agriculture.
How did your role evolve through the pandemic months? How did your previous experiences with technology management help you scale your efforts and meet unprecedented challenges?
This has been a very interesting year on many fronts, and we have adapted in so many ways, from how we launch new products to how we support dealers and customers. I can remember last March as the pandemic was really becoming an issue, our customers were preparing for planting season.
As you can imagine, if there is no planting, there are no crops, no harvest, and no food – all of which are pretty important. Ensuring that farmers have support when they need it is an absolute necessity. This is where our investment in technology over the past decade really came to life.
We leveraged the telematics embedded within our machines to remotely support growers, and when a customer needed help, our dealers leveraged this connectivity to remotely support machines. In fact, in many cases they were able to leverage data to anticipate any support needs and proactively engage with growers. This has now become the norm and we are doing it every day with hundreds of thousands of machines.
What is the most contemporary definition of Agri Tech and how has it transformed with data analytics and AI/ML capabilities?
Technology is fundamental to the business of farming and is a necessity for meeting the food production demands of the world’s ever-growing population. Throughout the years, data analytics and AI/ML have evolved to close the gap between the farming ecosystem and the digital world through advanced agriculture technology. With this technology, farmers can understand and collect data that measures variable conditions on the farm to ensure operations run seamlessly. Technologically advanced machines collect data on everything from planting conditions to crop success. These insights are gathered year-over-year to help a farmer make the most informed decisions possible.
Agriculture is the oldest occupation for humankind and AI is the latest tech! How do these two come together to benefit humankind?
When you bring together agriculture and AI, the impact extends beyond the farmer to everyone on the planet. Everyone needs to eat, and the farmer’s job is to deliver the food and resources to feed the world’s growing population.
At the same time, farmers must overcome challenges like the decline of arable farmland, a shrinking labor pool and unpredictable weather conditions. AI complements the work of the farmer and unlocks opportunities to make decisions at a tremendous scale that are more accurate and timelier than what can be achieved by a human alone. AI also informs decisions on machines used by farmers to increase efficiency and precision to sustainably create more food.
What kind of tech capabilities are we talking about while evaluating the role of AI in Agriculture?
Whether it’s planting or harvest season, Deere machines can assess and optimize the conditions for a single plant or a kernel of harvested grain, allowing the farmer to multiply his or her decision-making capacity a million times over.
To share a specific example, Deere’s X Series combines include high-resolution cameras and sensors linked to AI software to monitor grain as it’s collected. The machine can adjust dozens of its settings in real-time to maximize the amount of grain collected without causing any damage to the kernel. It’s able to understand crop quality too, so if the conditions aren’t optimal at harvesting time, the combine automatically takes action or recommends a solution to the operator so they can adjust the combine’s settings and achieve more favorable results.
Which AI startups are you most excited about that cater to the Agritech market?
I’m excited about many AI startups, but particularly those that are part of Deere’s Startup Collaborator program, which provides mentorship and resources to startup companies within the agriculture space. The program encourages innovation through collaboration, creative experimentation and bringing together different points of view in the industry. Our dedication to uplifting startups within the agriculture industry can also be seen through our work with Blue River Technology.
Deere acquired AI startup Blue River Technology in 2017 with a big goal in mind – to develop a smart machine with AI-driven computer vision solutions to precisely spray herbicides only where needed, with exactly what’s needed. This technology enables thousands of instantaneous, customized, precise decisions to be automated at the plant level, allowing for far more precise attention at a greater scale than was ever possible before, increasing a farmer’s productivity.
Technology from companies like Blue River will only continue to evolve to help farmers advance their business and feed the world – and we’re excited to see what the future holds.
What does AI need to be successful and solve some of the world’s biggest challenges?
For AI to be successful, there needs to be sufficient connectivity and infrastructure in place to support it. Although everyone in the world relies on agriculture, the many rural communities that drive the industry forward are not prioritized when it comes to access to reliable connectivity. This is why Deere is actively bringing agriculture into the discussion as a member of the Agriculture Broadband Coalition as the FCC develops policies and initiatives to expand rural broadband access.
Your prediction on the future of AI in agriculture? Your take on IoT, Drones and LiDAR technologies that could complement AI in the future?
Agriculture tells a story of constant innovation and productivity to address challenges for the benefit of our current needs and those of future generations. Until now, agriculture has been about doing more with more, but this new digital era is changing all that. It’s about doing more with less and providing farmers with additional tools to make more informed choices. In the future, machines will not only be able to understand what is in front of them in the field, but they will also know what prior machines have done in the field, allowing them to take even more precise actions to enable better use of inputs and maximize crop yields. This is the future of increased precision driven by predictive automation – and IoT, drones and LiDAR technologies are all part of that technology ecosystem making the farm more intelligent.
Thank you, Joel! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
Joel Dawson is the manager of production and precision agriculture marketing for John Deere, where he leads efforts to drive innovation and deliver results for the company’s cutting-edge technology. Joel has worked at John Deere for 18 years and has held various leadership positions including global product line marketing manager and division sales manager. Joel earned his bachelor’s in marketing and supply chain management from Western Illinois University and his master’s in business administration and management from the University of Phoenix.
Deere & Company (www.JohnDeere.com) is a world leader in providing advanced products, technology and services for customers whose work is revolutionizing agriculture and construction — those who cultivate, harvest, transform, enrich and build upon the land to meet the world’s increasing need for food, fuel, shelter and infrastructure.