One crucial element of your long-term portfolio should be companies that ensure the basic necessities of human life -- food, shelter and energy. By owning a piece of the leaders in these fields, you can guarantee yourself the sort of profits you will need to have a comfortable retirement.

Consider agricultural equipment. 

As the U.S. economy has gained strength in recent years, the market for agricultural and construction equipment, which took a brutal hit in the recession that followed the final crisis, has revived.

Two companies that have seen their flagging stock prices rise as a result are John Deere(DE) - Get Report and Caterpillar(CAT) - Get Report . Which of these stocks represents the best investment now? Caterpillar shares sank slightly in Monday trading, while Deere rose. 

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Looking at valuations, Deere has a much more reasonable price-earnings ratio (17) than Caterpillar's (58). On the other hand, Caterpillar's yield of 3.5% is higher, although Deere's yield of 2.8% is also higher than the average S&P 500 stock.

Of the two, Deere seems to have stronger prospects going forward. Without sacrificing its strong market share among American famers and builders, the company has shown a lot of innovation in developing new products and revamping old ones to meet the changing needs of its customers.

Deere's earnings per share moved higher in the last quarter, to $1.55 from $1.53 a year earlier. Despite a global recession in farming, all the company's divisions stayed profitable, with the agriculture division reporting higher operating profit than last year. Lower production costs and overhead expenses also contributed positively to the bottom line.

For generations, John Deere has helped American farmers successfully compete globally. The company has worked out a joint development agreement with Scherer Design Engineering to develop and commercialize a variety of new systems for farmers. Scherer has manufactured feed processors since 1999. With this agreement, John Deere and Scherer will develop a broader set of industry-leading options to harvest crops and to produce feed for dairy cows.

Deere is also in the process of acquiringMonsanto's Precision Planting division, although the Justice Department has raised questions about possible monopolization. If that deal goes through, the stock price will rise.

In the construction sector, the firm is now building on its widely used line of SmartGrade bulldozers. The new models are highly productive earth-moving and grading machines intended for road building, site development and residential building applications. The new design automatically adjusts engine power and transmission settings based on load while maintaining ground speed, to help optimize fuel economy.

Since SmartGrade is integrated into the machines, it removes the need to install blade-mounted sensors and components daily, reducing setup time and allowing operators of construction sites to get to work right away.


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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.