Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Blue River makes "see-and-spray" robots that affix to tractors and use computer vision to identify plants in the field in need of expensive inputs such as fertilizer or pesticides.
As farmers spend more on inputs, they tend to spend less on heavy equipment, which is bad for business for the owner of the iconic John Deere tractor brand.
Blue River's robotic technology will help growers reduce the use of costly herbicides by spraying only where weeds are present, optimizing the use of inputs in farming, Deere said in a statement released Wednesday, Sept. 6.
Moline, Ill.-based Deere intends to keep the 60-person target firm in Sunnyvale and expects to close the deal this month.
Founded in 2011 by two Stanford University graduates, Blue River has raised nearly $31 million through four rounds of venture funding since 2012, according to data compiled by Crunchbase Inc.
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The firm's first round of funding raised $3.1 million in September 2012. And the company's latest financing round raised $17 million from six investors, Pontifax AgTech, Monsanto Growth Ventures, Syngenta Ventures, Data Collective, Khosla Ventures and Innovation Endeavors.
Blue River estimates its precision agriculture technology can save farmers up to 90% of the volume of chemicals they use with traditional approaches.
Deere has been fairly acquisitive so far in 2017 with a particular focus on technology deals. The firm agreed in June to pick up Italian sprayer manufacturer Mazzotti Srl for an undisclosed sum. Earlier that month, Deere announced it would acquire privately owned German road construction equipment maker Wirtgen Group Holding GmbH, in a deal valuing the company at €4.6 billion ($5.2 billion).
But earlier this year, Deere missed out on a chance to bolster its high-speed precision planting systems unit, which employs a technology that is designed to allow farmers to plant crops accurately at higher speeds.
Monsanto in May pulled out of a $190 million agreement to sell its Precision Planting LLC subsidiary to Deere. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit challenging the deal, arguing that the tie-up would have eliminated competition in high-speed precision planting technology that both Deere and Precision Planting have developed and that U.S. farmers now rely on for productivity.