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Today’s Conversation: GHI Welcomes Cory J. Reed, Senior Vice President, Intelligent Solutions Group of John Deere as 2015 Board Chair
Margaret Zeigler: Cory, we are delighted that you are serving as the 2015 Chair of the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) Board of Directors. You have worked for John Deere for the past 16 years. Can you share why John Deere is committed to the work of the Global Harvest Initiative, and why your company was a founding member?
Cory Reed: At John Deere we help people live better and richer lives through our commitments to those linked to the land. We must keep people engaged in agriculture around the world as they seek to feed a growing world population. In the coming decades, farmers will need to be even more productive while conserving their soil and water, nearly doubling the amount of food, feed, fiber and fuel they produce to meet the expected demand of a rising global middle class. We believe the Global Harvest Initiative is one way to help raise awareness to the need and provide solutions to close the productivity gap.
Margaret Zeigler: In your current role as Senior Vice President of the Intelligent Solutions Group, what are some of the exciting innovations that can contribute to global agricultural productivity? Why is harnessing these new technologies and practices so important?
Cory Reed: We believe integrated solutions and specifically precision technology and data enabled agriculture are key to conserving resources and producing more food and agriculture for the world. In the U.S. there are 250 million acres of land cultivated each year. By bringing enhancements to equipment through advanced, customer-focused technologies and services, we can improve our customers’ productivity and profitability, so our customers can feed, fuel and clothe the world in a more sustainable way.
These technologies have been available since the early 2000’s when global positioning systems (GPS), auto guidance for agricultural equipment, and parallel tracking (a tool that helps manual guidance of machines be more precise) became available. Auto guidance precisely directs equipment through a farm field, reducing manual errors of overlap in tillage, seeding and spraying. This enables fewer equipment passes, less soil compaction, and less need for deep tillage operations, thereby saving time, fuel, and money while conserving soil.
Yield mapping is another exciting innovation; by capturing information on characteristics of soil and needs of specific crops geo-referenced across the field, farmers can optimize seed placement and more precisely apply pesticides and fertilizer. Finally, section control (turning off sections of a sprayer or planting machine when not needed) is important to efficiently use nutrients and crop protection products. All of these technologies promote environmental benefits, including cleaner water, while still supporting increased productivity.
Today’s conversation has turned to data and the insight that producers can gain from precision technology. It is about farmers looking at their operation in a whole new way and creating a system that supports their decisions and implementation during the crop production cycle.
Margaret Zeigler: We know that water scarcity and climate change and climate variability will be major challenges for the future of agriculture. How can precision agriculture and innovation help us address these challenges?
Cory Reed: As agriculture seeks to increase efficiencies and sustainability, water is also a key area of focus. That’s why John Deere has sensors that collect information on air temperature, soil temperature, solar radiation levels, and precipitation. This information can be used to calculate many measurements that aid in determining depletion rates of soil moisture, timing for field applications, and field preparedness for various activities. It helps ensure irrigation is used only when it is required, as well as reduce the tendency to over water and the risk of washing nutrient and crop protection applications away from where the crop can use it. In areas with water restrictions, saving water today could make the difference between having a crop next season and losing a harvest.
Margaret Zeigler: What are some of the innovations that you think will specifically help smaller-scale farmers in the developing world take advantage of these new approaches and innovations so they too can be more productive?
Cory Reed: Precision technology means different things in different countries. To drive change we must understand how people currently are farming and be respectful of that individual agricultural history. We start with asking what is needed by farmers. This is true for all of agriculture, not just in developing countries. However, in developing countries this is more than just providing equipment. It is about understanding the whole production cycle. It requires a systemic change. These farmers don’t always have access to the tools for basic production – training, seeds, finances and agricultural practices. Mechanization might not be the first thing they need. We want to help create a shared agricultural history through the appropriate solutions. This is includes teaching, training, and learning together.
For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the John Deere Foundation has partnered with TechnoServe to fund innovative Mobile Training Units to teach smallholder farmers best business practices and mechanization alternatives through farming cycles. Two Mobile Training Units, one based in Kenya and one in Ghana, travel to local villages so farmers can see the ongoing application of the techniques on their own farms without the travel costs and inconvenience of being away from their families and crops.
The John Deere Foundation has also supported Opportunity International, a global financial services organization providing smallholder farmers with financial packages, so they can gain access to the tools they need to increase production. As farmers gain knowledge through training, Opportunity International provides them with funds to buy inputs like fertilizer, seeds and pesticides, in order to increase quality yields, penetrate new markets, and gain customers.
Technology is helping farmers access financing in places that don’t have a strong banking system. For instance, a hand-held tablet application, developed at the John Deere Technical Center India, gathers accurate information about a farmer’s operation and credit history, helping ensure a farmer can receive a loan in a timely manner.
New models of providing mechanization to smaller-scale farmers are being developed in public-private partnerships. Agricultural Implement Resource Centers (AIRC’s) have been developed in India, where the Government of the State of Gujarat partners with John Deere and works with tribal communities to help farmers upgrade to more modern methods of farming that reduce monotonous heavy labor. Women farmers particularly benefit from adoption of mechanization in this program.
Margaret Zeigler: How can improving policies for agriculture be a key part of the solution to feed the world?
Cory Reed: I believe policy plays a very important role as it helps set the direction for innovative solutions to feeding the world. Specifically, GHI sees five priority policy areas:
1. Remove barriers to internal, regional and global trade in agriculture;
2. Enhance private-sector involvement in agriculture and rural infrastructure development;
3. Embrace and apply science-based and information technologies;
4. Strengthen and coordinate development assistance programs; and,
5. Invest in agricultural research and development (R&D).
Improving policy in these areas builds a firm foundation for increasing the availability and affordability of food, as well as facilitating trade between areas that produce and need food. When countries have a good policy environment they can attract investments and new technologies. This, in turn, helps farmers and others along the agriculture value chain improve how they produce, store, process and transport food and other much needed agriculture products. Without strong policies, this structure and support are much harder to obtain.