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HomeTrading NewsDeere Goes Autonomous With Its Farmer-Free Tractor

Deere Goes Autonomous With Its Farmer-Free Tractor

Illustration by Elias Stein

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One of the biggest themes at this past week’s CES tech show was electric and autonomous transportation—cars, trucks, bikes, boats. And, it turns out, tractors.

Farm-equipment giant Deere unveiled a new autonomous tractor with an attached tillage implement at CES. For those not familiar with farm life, Julian Sanchez, Deere’s director of emerging technologies, told Barron’s that tillage is a vital, time-consuming, and tedious process of preparing the soil for next season’s planting. If you don’t do it fast, the ground could freeze. And ineffective tilling means some seeds won’t take and yield will drop.

While automatic steering has been on tractors for several years, Deere’s autonomous tractor can operate without a driver in the cab. The tractor can detect obstacles that might damage the attached tiller. And, he says, it can run around the clock, saving time and labor, and improving productivity by as much as 20%.

Sanchez notes there’s more to this than just navigation. If the tilling is too shallow, you don’t break up the chaff; too deep, and the tractor moves too slowly, boosting fuel costs. The system includes six cameras to detect holes, debris, or other materials, notifying the farmer when an issue needs to be addressed. Eventually, Sanchez adds, Deere expects to add other tasks to the autonomous tractor, like planting seeds and spreading herbicides.

Deere hasn’t announced pricing on its autonomous tractor—or the business model that might apply to a tractor with an ongoing need for data connectivity and navigation services. It’s the software-as-a-service model, layered on top of farming.

Last Week

A Chilly Start

Apple became the first stock to breach the $3 trillion market cap, before falling back. OPEC+ approved a scheduled rise in production, but oil and uranium rose as protests ripped through OPEC+ member Kazakhstan. The job news was mixed: Some 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November, a new high, but unemployment fell. Rising Treasury yields and Federal Reserve minutes suggesting a March interest- rate increase sank tech shares and Bitcoin. On the week, the Dow industrials slipped 0.3%, to 36,231.66; the S&P 500 lost 1.9%, to 4677.03; and the Nasdaq Composite fell 4.5%, to 14,935.90.

Cars, Cars, Chips

Tesla shares rose after announcing global deliveries that beat estimates, in part attributable to its ability to source chips. Toyota passed General Motors as the top vehicle seller in the U.S., after stockpiling chips—the first time in 90 years GM wasn’t No. 1. And Ford shares rose after it doubled production plans for its new electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

Omicron Rising

Omicron and bad weather hammered travel —airlines canceled some 18,500 flights from Christmas Eve through Monday. The U.S. recorded a million infections, twice the previous record. Schools began going virtual again. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer and BioNTech booster for 12- to 15-year-olds.

China Comes Up Short

China failed to meet its commitments to buy U.S. goods under the Trump trade deal. That left the Biden administration with the problem of what to do about it. China had promised to boost U.S. purchases by $200 billion in 2017 dollars, but fell short by 17% on agricultural goods, 41% on manufactured items, and 62% on energy.

More Evergrande Woes

Shares of China Evergrande were temporarily suspended in Hong Kong after the city government of manmade tourist island Hainan ordered the developer to destroy 39 buildings for “illegal construction.” Evergrande said that the Hainan project would continue.

Holmes Guilty

A jury convicted Elizabeth Holmes, the 37-year-old founder of failed diagnostic start-up Theranos, of three counts of wire fraud and one of conspiracy to commit fraud. She could face years in prison.

Annals of Deal Making

In its first big deal since 2015, 3G Capital agreed to buy 75% of the shares of Dutch-based window-coverings maker Hunter Douglas for a 64% premium and an enterprise value of $7.1 billion…The New York Times said it is buying The Athletic website for $550 million…The Wall Street Journal reported that AT&T ’s WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS were talking to potential buyers of CW Network. The front-runner: Nexstar Media…Private equity’s TPG is looking for a $9.5 billion valuation in its IPO, raising as much as $877 million…Warner Music bought David Bowie’s songbook for a reported $250 million.

Write to Eric J. Savitz at eric.savitz@barrons.com

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