Five months after abandoning its proposed purchase of Monsanto’s precision planting subsidiary due to anti-trust concerns, agricultural equipment giant Deere and Company announced that it will spend $305 million to acquire ag-tech startup Blue River Technology. Founded in 2011 and based in Sunnyvale, Blue River develops machine learning technology for precision farming and counts Monsanto’s venture capital arm, Monsanto Growth Ventures, among its investors.
According to Crunchbase, Blue River raised a total of $30.35 million in funding and its other backers included Data Collective, Pontifax AgTech, Innovation Endeavors and Khosla Ventures.
Precision agriculture refers to farming practices that rely on computer vision, machine learning and smart devices to improve yield. It’s attractive to growers because it automates labor-intensive parts of the farming process, allowing them to cut labor costs, and also reduces the waste of pesticides, water and fertilizer.
Precision farming is an important part of Deere’s growth strategy and it agreed to buy Precision Planting LLC from Monsanto in November 2015, but gave up on the deal in May after the U.S. Department of Justice filed an anti-trust lawsuit. The Department of Justice claimed that the deal would have been worth about $190 million and that Deere and Precision Planting together would have held at least 86 percent of the high-speed precision planting market.
Monsanto Growth Ventures participated in Blue River’s $17 million Series B, which was announced in December 2015.
Though Deere is based in Moline, Illinois, Blue River’s 60-person team will remain in Sunnyvale. The acquisition is expected to be completed next month.
Blue River’s See & Spray equipment uses computer vision and machine learning to help growers reduce the use of herbicides. Its technology analyzes each plant and refers to an image library to determine if it is a weed. If it is, the See & Spray then sprays herbicide directly onto the offending plant, avoiding the crop or surrounding soil. This distinguishes See & Spray from other computer vision-based weed detection methods that analyze growth patterns and colors in patches of plants and makes it much more precise. Other Blue River machines include the LettuceBot, which automatically culls lettuce plants so the others have enough space to thrive, and remote-sensing drones.
In a statement, John May, Deere’s chief information technology officer and president of agricultural solutions, said the company will be able to integrate Blue River’s technology in a wide range of products. “As a leader in precision agriculture, John Deere recognizes the importance of technology to our customers. Machine learning is an important capability for Deere’s future.”