John Deere has bought Silicon Valley startup Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million, the company’s latest attempt to further develop its autonomous technology.

Over the past few years, a number of equipment companies have made investments to expand their capabilities in automation and precision agriculture, two examples being Deere’s acquisition of Blue River Technologies for $305 million in 2017 and CNH Industrial’s purchase of Raven Industries for $2.1 billion earlier this year.

The use of autonomous technology is increasingly becoming an appealing option for farmers seeing decreases in the availability of skilled labor. John Deere’s purchase marks the company’s intent to be at the forefront of the emerging autonomous farm machine industry.

“We've talked quite openly about our strategy of automation and autonomy," Dan Leibfried, the director of automation and autonomy for John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group, said at a press conference Friday. “We believe that we’ve got significant momentum and we're continuing to make significant investments in the automation space.”

According to a release, John Deere worked with Bear Flag in 2019 as a part of its Startup Collaborator program, an initiative the company says focuses on “enhancing work with startup companies whose technology could add value for Deere customers.”

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Aubrey Donnellan, founder and chief operating officer of Bear Flag, said the company first attempted to find opportunities in orchard floor management and mowing before finding its “niche” in autonomous tillage. It has been working for the past couple of years to find ways to automate disking, harrowing and plowing for customers in California.

“TIllage is just the start,” Donnellan said. “We plan to move across all production steps and, frankly, machine types and machine forms as well.”

Leibfried said Bear Flag will keep its name and customers for the time being and will remain in Silicon Valley. However, the release said the company plans to work closely with Deere to accelerate its innovation and autonomy for worldwide customers.

“Deere and Bear Flag are highly complementary from both a technology and mission perspective," Leibfried said in the release. "We look forward to working even closer together with the ultimate goal of helping farmers achieve the best possible outcomes through advanced technology like autonomy."

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