By TIM ALEXANDER
OLATHE, Kan. — After spending years expanding its leadership in crop care technologies through the acquisition of several innovative spray equipment companies, John Deere and Company needed a location for a new company laboratory to test products coming through the pipeline.
They found the answer in Ames, Iowa, at the Iowa State University (ISU) Research Park, where Deere said they will soon break ground on a 33,000 square-foot facility to be used as a design test lab for agricultural spraying and applications technology. It is expected to be completed by summer 2019, according to Cyndee Smiley, media relations manager for John Deere’s Ag and Turf Division.
“The world will have ten billion people by 2050 and that is going to take a different level of research, commitment and innovation within agriculture. One of the huge benefits of partnering with Iowa State and investing in this facility is that we are going to be able to enhance our product design and improve our development cycles,” Smiley said from Deere headquarters in Olathe, Kan. “As we’ve continued to expand our leadership in crop care technologies we’ve acquired several companies. For instance, we acquired Blue River Technologies in September of ‘17. We have got to be able to design and test more effectively, and this lab is going to give us the capability, if needed, to develop and test 24 hours, 7 days a week.”
In addition to Blue River Technologies, Deere has also purchased King Agro (March 2018), Mazzotti (June 2017) and Hagie (March 2016). The chosen location for the test lab at ISU’s Research Park was a natural selection for Deere, which opened a strategic technology office at the location in February 2018.
“We are thrilled that John Deere continues to recognize Iowa State’s exceptional return on investment,” stated ISU president Wendy Wintersteen, in a Deere news release issued April 26. “The plans announced today for the ISU Research Park will enhance John Deere’s access to our expertise, research and development opportunities and to ISU’s student workforce.”
Finding a suitable location for the spray lab close to available testing grounds was paramount in the determination, Smiley added. “It is located right there in the Midwest in close proximity to land, which will allow us to test both inside and outside,” she said.
Neither Deere or ISU media representatives offered any projections on how many Deere employees would work at the new spray lab, or how many ISU students and post-grads might be employed, at press time. An architect’s drawing of the planned lab was getting the final touches from a draftsman, as well, when this issue went to press.
A Deere news release, however, confirmed that some employees currently working at the company’s strategic tech office in ISU Research Park would be located in the new building when it is completed. The new test center will also “allow increased collaboration with ISU faculty and students,” according to Aaron Wetzel, Deere vice president of the global crop care platform.
Deere’s strategic technology innovation center at the research park was opened in February to “collaborate with the company’s business units and complement John Deere’s global network of technology and innovations centers,” according to the company. Teams working at the innovation center focus on developing integrated solutions for John Deere’s Agriculture and Turf and Construction and Forestry divisions. A key area of concentration is in precision agriculture technology.
“Working with ISU helps John Deere continue its leadership in precision agriculture and many other areas of technology that are important to our customers,” said John May, Deere’s president of agricultural solutions and chief information officer. “The new office at ISU will conduct groundbreaking research, engage future leaders of our industry, and will add to the extensive innovation and research capabilities that John Deere has invested in around the world.”
ISU’s Research Park is a 220-plus acre development with more than 600,000 square feet of current building space. Serving as an innovation community and incubator for new and expanding businesses, the ISU Research Park generates $3.5 million in operating income each year for the university, with an additional fund appropriation of $325,000 arriving annually from the state. The Park shows total salaries of over $70 million annually, with average yearly totaling $68,000, according to the university website.
Campus-based test labs such as the one planned by Deere and ISU are a valuable asset to both the host university and the company or companies investing in the location, said Roger Hoy, director of the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I think that our experience has been fantastic, though our lab is operated a little differently than the Deere lab will be. We hire college kids who do about 80 percent of the work here, and what they get is a very practical side of the whole college education. We provide a training ground for the agricultural engineers who are going to be designing the equipment in the coming decades,” Hoy explained. “They end up far better prepared for their first job in the real world. For educating students, it is fantastic. The university views (the test lab) as a tremendous asset.”
While work at the Deere spray lab will focus only on products manufactured by the Moline, Illinois-based company, tractors tested at the Nebraska laboratory are sent there by companies including Deere, AGCO, CASE IH and many other farm machinery manufacturers. But no matter the origin of the products tested, the companies, employees and students based at university research parks value access to conveniences and services that balance work and life, according to Steven Carter, director of the ISU Research Park.
“These companies are looking for talented individuals straight out of school, such as ISU students, and those employees want to conduct their life activities in close proximity to where their work is,” Carter said.