A brave new world of technological improvements lies ahead for agricultural producers, a John Deere spokesman said recently in St. Joseph.
Barry Nelson, manager of media relations for John Deere in Olathe, Kan., spoke on farming innovations to the St. Joseph Metro Chamber Agribusiness Committee. Before launching into a description of the company's technical advances and plans, he spoke about a financial report that shows a fourth-quarter net income rise of 17 percent for the company, despite a lagging farm economy.
"We've been very fortunate the past three years," Mr. Nelson said. John Deere manufactures tractors, combines and other equipment used to raise and harvest crops. Sales of agricultural gear are expected to decline next year in the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe -- but gain slightly in Asia. The company also has forestry and construction divisions besides its ag and turf sector, which represents 75 percent of the business.
John Deere has developed a vision of preparing for farming's future, Mr. Nelson told the committee.
"A lot of people in the urban areas have no clue" about technical work occurring with farming, he said. "We wanted to see the next 10 to 20 years. It's going to be in agriculture."
Technological innovations will be key in providing food, feed, fiber and fuel to a growing world population, Mr. Nelson said. The world's population is estimated to reach 9 billion people by 2045, he said, with most of the increase forecast for Asia and Africa.
"We are growing globally," he said of the company. "The potential for construction and forestry looks good. ... More people are going in the middle class. They're improving their income. ... As prosperous as we are, we still see good growth for the future."
The primary issues in feeding the world, most notably its children, are found in transportation, storage, distribution systems and infrastructure.
Regarding the ethanol debate, Mr. Nelson said he personally believes petroleum companies should not dominate the fuels market. Sustainable resources are needed to create more energy.
"What the solution is going to be is innovation," he told the committee.
The company has developed new precision guidance systems for more than the past decade.
"It's taking a lot of the drudgery out of operating the equipment," Mr. Nelson said.
"The next step is going to be coordinated by use of telematics" or data. John Deere's network of satellite towers grew strongly between 2010 and 2012.
"Farmers are going to be able to be more precise in what they can do" and improve communications, Mr. Nelson said.
Efforts to enhance rural broadband need to mirror those that occurred with the Rural Electrification Act of the mid-1930s, he said.
"We will have hiccups the next few years," he said on the spread of technological advances in agriculture. "It's kind of a great time to be in the machine business."
Ray Scherer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer. The Associated Press contributed information to this story.