A coming together of some of the brightest minds in the agricultural machinery and technology industries at Esperance last week has been described as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Four nations were represented when members of the senior leadership teams of John Deere and AFGRI visited the port town for the opening of the new AFGRI Equipment - Esperance machinery workshop, a rare occurrence to have so many global leaders on hand at one time in a WA regional centre.
About 140 guests and staff, including 12 members of the respective senior management teams, who had travelled from homes and offices in America, Canada, South Africa and Brisbane, Queensland, celebrated the landmark occasion.
For AFGRI Equipment, the new facility demonstrates its commitment to the bush and farmer first philosophy, while for the visiting executives it was also a chance to get genuine farmer feedback and future wish lists in a progressive farming region.
The massive 40 x 60 x 6m Auspan shed, custom built by landlord OD Transport, provides 2400 square metres of lockable space under one roof, with a 10m wide lean-to running the full length of the building, 12m wide front and rear doors and three 6m wide doors at each side.
It's a huge upgrade on the company's existing undercover workshop, less than half the size and spread over two buildings.
AFGRI Equipment - Esperance, branch manager Michael Perry said they could now realistically work on four 40 foot bars folded out, plus a tractor with each to run the hydraulics, all under one roof and still have space for other equipment.
"It makes for a cleaner, more efficient working environment and gives more space to house and commission new equipment which is good for our 46 branch staff (with more set to join by the end of February) and our clients," Mr Perry said.
AFGRI general manager sales and marketing, Jacques Coetzee, who welcomed guests to the sundowner event, said the new workshop significantly boosted the company's capacity to provide superior sales and service support to its customers.
"One of the key phrases you will hear from John Deere is its vision to have the most productive, profitable and sustainable customers in the world," Mr Coetzee said.
"John Deere as a company is providing the best equipment and technology, now we as a dealership group need to offer our best in terms of support and service, which includes infrastructure.
"And if we don't provide the right support, then you as customers need to hold us to account."
Mr Coetzee said it was a significant moment to have such a "room full of leadership" available to clients and staff, allowing two-way dialogue on company insights into future product and technology plans and discussion from growers about their needs and experiences.
A window into some future developments on the John Deere drawing board came from its senior vice president and chief technology officer Jahmy Hindman, (Moline, Illinois, United States).
"The way we look at this within John Deere from a technology perspective is in the context of a sense, decide and act framework," Mr Hindman said.
"We are sensing more things with every passing growing season, whether from our equipment technology or growers or agronomists in the field and our ability to take that information, make a decision about it and act on it is key."
One of the company's latest developments was its See & Spray self-propelled spray unit, recently brought to market and on display on the night.
"This unit has 36 cameras along a 120 foot boom and nine graphical processing units capturing five billion pixels, which is processed in one second to detect if a weed is present and then spray it," he said.
"Currently we can achieve this at 17-18km groundspeed, but we are working on speeding this up.
"The benefits for you are reduced input costs, one of the limitations in your business in the crop protection cycle and for us it unlocks or opens the door to what else we can use this technology for - maybe nutrients, maybe fungicides or insecticides application.
"There's a whole world of opportunity to help you be more profitable and your operations more economically and environmentally sustainable."
Mr Hindman said autonomy, driven by scarcity of labour which was a common theme in agriculture globally, was another area of concerted focus and also used camera technology.
"We have announced publicly our aspiration to have an autonomous corn and soy production system by 2030," he said.
"We are starting with tractors and tillage because they are the easiest to work with, are some of the most used equipment and therefore have potential to have the biggest impact.
"In the midwest of the US, we have 30,000 hectares of ground that has been operated on autonomously over the past two to three growing seasons and we expect to launch the first production unit in 2025.
"As a farm kid myself, this is super exciting."
Mr Hindman said some of the biggest benefits with autonomy as highlighted by trialling growers was the gift of time, enabling them to spend more time with their families or complete jobs that needed doing but didn't get done in the days when they were confined to their tractor cabs.
They could also have the machine working 24/7, it was more reliable and accurate than a human, was not affected by changes in weather conditions and could be checked on at any time through their phone app or at home.
"Global connectivity is another big thing at the moment," Mr Hindman said.
"Think back 25 years when GPS technology and satellite usage was amazing for its time, well we're in a similar place today, with more satellites launched in the last six years than in the previous 60 years.
"We recently announced a partnership with StarLink, purpose built for John Deere to be piloted in Brazil and the US, with plans to start production in 2025.
"I want to assure you Australia has not been forgotten, but the process to launch new satellite connectivity solutions in this country requires government regulatory approval so we will start that process in May.
"Technology on farms in the future will be even better when connectivity is better - this is a real transformation period."
On his first trip to Australia, Mr Hindman expressed admiration for the skill and progressiveness of WA farmers, who operated without safety nets (subsidies).
"Every farm no matter where it is located operates with a set of constraints, but your constraints are fierce especially on water availability but also soil types and environmental conditions.
"This changes the way you think about how to farm, how you adapt and it puts a premium on your demands of us to find solutions and challenges us to solve these problems.