Ag turns heads in virtual Vegas

There might not be too many farmers interested in the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but John Deere is.

It was the third year the company has attended the event in an effort to highlight the technology used in farming. The tools the company builds that allow producers to plant, fertilize, protect and harvest make use of the same sciences that every industry relies on.

To farmers, computers providing automated guidance across and under the soil, through seed paths, to combine’s threshing clearances, at the sprayer’s nozzle or the spinner’s speed, seem common place. To the public, it’s not what they expect, says Jenny Ose.

Ose wasn’t in Las Vegas for the CES. No one was. It was held virtually this year. Ose, like hundreds of other exhibitors, appeared at the show remotely. She was in Iowa.

The CES isn’t a show that’s open to the public. Technology industry professionals and product retailers, manufacturers and the media are the market.

Among her hosting duties at the event, Ose, formerly from the Canadian arm of Deere, took about 50 non-agricultural journalists to the field and let them experience agriculture up-close and as it is.

“Those journalists really don’t have a lot of experience with what we do in food production. At the (CES) we get the opportunity to show them how farming uses technology,” she said.

Virtual tractor or combine operation is something that farmers have seen at trade events. Without a suite of seat, joystick and monitors the company used virtual reality goggles sent out to the reporters in advance of the show to allow them to get a sense of the in-cab experience.

John Deere took that experience someplace that farmers are aware of, but, short of nasty accident, haven’t seen for themselves; under the machinery and into the ground.

Doug Sauder heads up product management for the company in San Francisco. He was also virtually at the CES.

“(The reporters) got to experience seed being planted over top of them, at 10 miles an hour,” he said.

In the demonstration, a planter equipped with about 300 sensors and more than 140 controllers passed over the viewer in slow motion. It shows how the row units consistently deliver the seed to the soil and firm it down. “They see just how the machine reacts to the soil and precisely locates the seed. Then it makes another pass in real time,” he said.

At more than 100 seeds per second the tractor and planter flies over the viewer, performing the task as it does in the field, as it covers more than 400 acres per day.

Ose said the process shows people how the only way for this to happen is using the latest in technology and that human hands aren’t fast enough to control the process.

“We also take them into a soil pit in the field to see what is happening underground,” she said.

Journalists also got the experience operating a tractor in the field with and without automated steering.

“And then we tell them in the field it could be 10 or 12 hours a day,” she said.

The combination of tools helped to tell these influencers of the general public a story about agriculture’s use of technology to avoid waste, protect the environment and that the industry cares about its place on the land.

To plant a further seed in the reporters’ minds before the show the company also sent them a small box of dirt and one corn, soybean and cotton seed.

“They were to plant them exactly as instructed, put them in a spot with some light and, in the time before the show, they should have grown a seedling,” she said.

During their virtual tours, reporters were asked to imagine putting 100 of the seeds into that precise position in the soil every second for weeks each spring.

“It might have been a virtual experience, but we think it got the point across,” she said.

Sauder said when people realize all of the variables that have to be managed in a real field, “terrain, soil conditions, weather, they start to better understand agriculture.”

He said Deere won an award at the show for its X9 combine’s ability to manage its productivity and the quality of the grain sample through automation.

He said the company welcomes winning farm equipment awards at farm events, but being recognized at one of the world’s premier technology shows was something of which they were especially proud.

This year, he said he missed the opportunity to showcase the company for young engineers and technology professionals who don’t realize what agriculture has to offer in terms of careers.

“Next year,” he said, as if referring to something farmers know well.

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