Day two of the first Crop Intelligence Annual Summit commenced with a session with Yancy Wright, Senior Agronomist at John Deere. He began his keynote with a family history anecdote.
Wright’s farm in Oklahoma has been in his family for over 100 years. His grandfather moved from Illinois to Oklahoma as part of the Homestead Act, where families were given free land to encourage them to farm marginal land in the Southern Great Plains.
Initially, their farm was thriving because of good weather conditions, high prices and great wheat crops, but soon changed due to drought and unprotected farmland that resulted in persistent wind erosion or what is described as The Dust Bowl of the 1930s...
Wright shared this story not only to give some background on his family farm, but also as a professional agronomist. It’s a learning experience about how to get past something like this happening today—and ultimately help drive productivity, innovation and sustainability on farms.
When approaching innovation with his small grains productions systems innovation team at John Deere, Wright’s team follows a model to help organize the marketing and innovation process - learn, innovate, connect, sell. First, generate customer and business insights (learn). Then, go to designing the solution (innovate). Next, go to market and connect with the consumer (connect). Lastly, manage the sales process (sell).
He then brought his focus to the first point of the process—learn. Wright explained that John Deere always starts with a hypothesis, which is the foundational part of the scientific process. These hypotheses always have a piece of value, such as an increase in yield or a cost of production decrease.
They estimate the value of these new approaches being hypothesised by investigating how they might impact two model farms (on paper)—a representative farm in Canada and a Southern Plains farm. They also include an inference space, for example the Western Canadian plains or maybe even as specific as the black soils region. This space further defines where opportunity lies, geographically. Wright noted that if his family farm had a better idea of inference, maybe they would have approached their cultivation differently during the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma as compared to what was done in the Midwestern part of the United States.
From establishing their hypotheses, they look to validate it by seeing if there is any current research to support it. If there isn’t any current research, they look at conducting field trials themselves. Often times, there isn’t research out there because equipment that could obtain the information simply hasn’t been made yet.
If there are insights that can be pulled from research or trials, they then look to see if they can provide new equipment or a tech solution that gives value to their hypothesis. This kickstarts the innovation process of creating solutions.
A few examples of some hypotheses that John Deere is currently looking at are centered around increasing yield potentials with wheat and canola in North America. Wright highlighted some of the work they’ve been doing in the area of canola and wheat establishment as well as increasing grain quality in wheat.
He wrapped up the session with the message that innovation ultimately comes out of understanding the research – what’s already out there and what the need is. From there, new products can be created to help growers increase their revenue or decrease their production costs.