A few weeks ago, my column was about a forecast by Rabobank analysts that economic conditions were ripe for agricultural machinery companies to go on merger and acquisition binges. Sure enough, last week, John Deere announced that it had acquired Precision Planting and had reached a data-sharing agreement with The Climate Corporation. Big news. Deere had preceded those blockbusters by a day with an announcement that it had acquired Monosem, a French planter manufacturer known for its leading-edge technologies. And even before that, Deere announced it had formed a joint venture with Colorado-based software company DN2K to develop a cloud-based service to allow ag retailers and others to better share machine-to-machine data.
Trimble, which has its fingers in many pies, including agriculture, also has been very busy. This week it announced it has acquired Agri-Trend, a Canadian company that bills itself as "North America's most expansive network of agricultural advisers." Trimble preceded that with an announcement a couple weeks earlier that it had acquired the Swedish company PocketMobile, which it said, "provides enterprise mobile workforce solutions for international customers in the areas of postal service and logistics, security and field service." (Pay special note to the "field service" part of that for its potential application in agriculture.) "By blending these two companies," Trimble said, "[it] expects to become more competitive in the platform-based mobile workforce solution marketplace as technology shifts to smartphones, new mobile operating systems, and the requirement to quickly introduce new services."
A couple of days before the PocketMobile announcement, Trimble trumpeted an agreement -- not a merger or acquisition -- with sometime competitor Raven: "users of the Trimble Connected Farm solution can now view task data and as-applied maps transferred wirelessly from Raven's Slingshot system. By tapping into the Slingshot API, Connected Farm is able to communicate with Raven field computers, such as the Viper Pro and Viper 4 to wirelessly transfer field data and locate equipment in the field."
What's it all mean for Trimble?
First, it means that Trimble -- like Deere -- sees opportunity in a down market. While others might fret about taking chances when revenues are slowing, both Trimble and Deere have pockets deep enough (and are diverse enough) to make sizable wagers on purchases, partnerships and agreements. When things turn around in the ag world, they are betting, they will be in positions of strength.
On the Trimble side, I am especially intrigued by the Agri-Trend acquisition. The Canadian company is 16 years old and represents 100 "coaches" located in 15 states and five provinces. The coaches have various specialties -- agronomics, business, land resources, markets -- and various degrees of certification and experience. According to Trimble, "Coaches are supported by a team of science specialists comprised of over 30 Ph.D.s and M.Sc.s providing in-house research, training and insight support for both the coaching network and the Agri-Data Solution platform -- a proprietary farm data management solution."
Trimble brings to the table its ConnectedFarm products, a suite of telematic solutions that facilitate data transfer among vehicles and the office via a secure website. Trimble also has precision farming products -- from soil analysis to irrigation to land formation. According to vice president for Trimble's Agriculture Division Joe Denniston, the Agri-Trend acquisition combines technology and expertise to "enable the integration of decisions and execution to give greater control over the outcome, resulting in maximized productivity for the grower."
The vehicle for this will be the integration of Trimble's Farm Advisor -- a field data management tool for the farmer's trusted adviser -- with the Agri-Trend's digital, "to empower Agri-Trend coaches with a greater toolset to deliver more services to their growers," according to Trimble.
It all sounds like Trimble and Deere are consolidating resources and skill sets with an eye to the not-too-distant future.
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