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Pre-Season John Deere Operations Center Reminders

15 Feb 2024  •  Tony Kramer

You can find past podcast episodes and view show notes by visiting our Podcast website.  

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Read the entire transcript from the latest episode. 

Tony Kramer: Hi, I'm Tony Kramer, your host of the Agriculture Technology Podcast. I'm sitting down with agriculture technology and equipment experts to help you enhance your operation for today, tomorrow, and into the future. In this episode, I sit down with Ryan Stien to discuss the value of the John Deere Operations Center with a focus on the small grains market of agriculture. With that, let's dive into the show. 

Thank you very much, Ryan, for sitting down with me and chatting a little bit more about the John Deere Operations Center. We know there's value out there, it's been around for a number of years. In this episode, we wanted to focus on that small grain customer, the small grain market, and really where we've identified that there's opportunity there, and we'll get into more of that in the show here. Really showing those small grain customers or explaining to them the value of the operations center and what they can do with it going forward. Before we dive into the show, why don't you just introduce yourself, Ryan? Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you come from, and how you got to where you are today. 

Ryan Stien: Yes, Tony. Thanks for having me on the show. My name is Ryan Stien. Currently, I'm the go-to-market manager at John Deere for our digital products such as the operations center, and also around connectivity. Connecting machines, whether that's your tractor, combine, or other vehicles on the farm to our digital platform. 

Some of my background, I grew up on a family farm in eastern Iowa, went to Iowa State University for engineering as my undergraduate degree. Coming out of school, I spent a few years in the petroleum industry, did some sales in the Gulf of Mexico region for a few years. That agriculture portion, you grow up on it, and you're in it. You always have that inkling to get back. After about two years of doing that role, I had the chance to join John Deere in our large tractor marketing group in Waterloo, Iowa. That was awesome. 

We got to be around six series through nine series tractors. We were doing a lot of product launches at that time, a great way to join a company like John Deere. From that point, I moved out to central Nebraska and worked from Nebraska through eastern Colorado for a few years on this exact topic with digital stuff and getting our dealers more engaged with the John Deere Operations Center. I spent a few years back in Iowa in our Des Moines factory in application, specifically working on See and Spray products or CN spray Select and CN spray Ultimate products that are now in market. I've moved into our digital go-to-market manager for about the last 18 months. 

Tony: Awesome. It's really neat to hear people's background stories. You got a unique one, you're engineering and in the petroleum industry, and then come back to your roots in the ag industry. That's really cool. Then also just your background with John Deere, you've been in a number of different markets or a number of different product platforms to really know and understand the struggles and where customers can benefit from some of the technologies like the John Deere Operations Center. Really neat to hear that. 

Let's dive in now and just talk about the very basics of the John Deere Operations Center because you and I both know there is so much to it. We can utilize it to learn so much about the operation or a customer can learn so much. Let's just start out real high level, what is the value of the John Deere Operations Center to a small grains customer? 

Ryan: Tony, I think there's some unique things. There are so many places in the world today to back up even a level higher on ag data, farm data, logistics management. There's a lot of fantastic tools and the evolution of what you can do on the farm has grown so much, especially in the last five years. 

When I think about the core value of the Operations Center, it really comes into we can document your agronomic inputs on the farm. We start calling it the digital twin or the digital replica of the farm. You think about on the agronomic side of that, that's having your fields, all the fields that you farm. You can get your products loaded in, your seeds, your chemical, your fertilizer loaded in, and your John Deere equipment. The equipment is where the John Deere Operations Center starts to differentiate from other platforms that are in the market, because now we're not solely looking at the agronomics, we're also looking at your equipment. 

Working with John Deere, we know that there's a significant investment that customers put into their equipment. Monitoring how the job is progressing, monitoring how well that investment in your equipment is returning for the grower is a really unique portion of the Operations Center. That's, I think, what I think of the Operations Center in general, is that equipment monitoring and that equipment viewpoints, not just where is it at and how many hours, but how well of a job is it doing in the field. That's where it starts to pull away from just being an agronomic tool only. 

Tony: I couldn't agree more. I've actually said that, whether it be in conversation with people or maybe even past episodes, I truly view the John Deere Operations Center as a business system for farmers. We've got-- If you ever run your own private business, maybe you do quick books for all your financial stuff, or we, as a John Deere dealer, we have a CRM system, a customer software that allows us to sell parts to-- know and understand what's going on from a service aspect. The John Deere Operations Center is just that from an agronomic perspective. You talk about the machines, the agronomic data, all of it together. 

There was definitely a shift. With the introduction of the John Deere Operations Center, John Deere brought in all of the equipment. Prior to that, we had APEX, which was solely agronomic data. Like you said in the start of your comments there, it's so much bigger. It's not just the agronomic data. It is so total farm, total operation, everything there. The John Deere Operations Center is a tool that should be on every farm for that very reason. 

Ryan: Yes, totally agree, Tony. I think another portion that makes it a neat tool to have on your farm is you might be thinking, if you're listening to this and you've never been in Operations Center before, it's a web-based platform. You can log on from anywhere and see that data, see your farm, but it's also a mobile app. You can get on your phone, your mobile app and see all that information as well. If you haven't used it before, you can go out, download the mobile app, and start utilizing it today and just giving it a feel for it. It's a zero-cost product, which is also a cool thing to enable customers to get their feet wet in the world of data and the world of operations center. 

Tony: Absolutely. Now let's talk a little bit about-- Let's dive in now to some of the agronomics from a small grain side. John Deere has identified an opportunity where maybe traditionally the mindset for something like this has lived in that corn and soy, the coarse grain, large grains world, maybe some of the other industries in ag or the other crops in ag. Maybe they don't know about it, maybe they don't understand the value in it. 

Let's talk about why or how John Deere identified this opportunity, and how small grains customers can really use this tool whether it be agronomics or fleet management, or machine monitoring up and down the field. You're out seeding these large wheat fields, large canola fields, whatever it may be. Where's the value there? 

Ryan: We think about identifying the opportunity. For us, small grains is such a huge part of North American agriculture. If you look at any of the statistics that come from the USDA or look into Canada as well, even if you just take out the spring wheat portion of small grains growth, call it your Dakotas, Montana, Western Canada, you're talking about over a third of all large ag acres that will get grown in the US and Canada are in that area. 

There's just a huge amount of focus from the producers that are there, there's a lot of inputs that get put in, and there's a lot of our great core customers that are from John Deere that are in those areas. That's where that opportunity sticks out to anyone who looks at agriculture, just from the sheer amount of production that goes on in those regions. Another area we focused on a lot in Operations Center is making it a platform for everybody. 

What I mean by that is it's not just a-- If you're listening to this and you think, gosh, I have a John Deere tractor, but maybe I have a different color Cedar or a different color combine, we can bring that data into Operations Center as well. The work that we've put in to make Operations Center an open platform and abide by some of the industry standards around making data open, starts to open the door into small grains. There's a significant amount of Cedar options, and we can bring some of that data in as well. It's that culmination Tony has a market opportunity of. 

There's a lot of production that goes on in that area, we have some fantastic John Deere customers in those areas. Some of those customers are also using non-John Deere products and the ability to bring those in is something we want to make sure we're highlighting. It's a great foundation and place to start, is within the John Deere Operations Center on documenting your data and now also making sure that your equipment, whether it's a 9R tractor or a X9 combine or a S-series combine, you can start to have that data pull and holistic view of your equipment and farm in that one spot. 

Tony: You bring up a really good point about you and I sit here and of course, we would love every farm to be green on green on green, completely John Deere pure, but we know that's not the reality in the industry. I know we've done episodes in the past where I've talked about things like the customers that have precision planting planters, and whatever it may be other display types. 

Now, of course, depending on the non-John Deere air seeder you have, there is some compatibility or some data we can get in, other data we can't get in, but we're working on that. I know you guys at John Deere are always looking at the broader spectrum because in the ag industry, we know not everybody is running a complete Deere fleet. It helps because the customer that doesn't have a complete Deere fleet, maybe they're just running a non-Deere air seeder, but the whole rest of the fleet is John Deere. The one piece that we're missing is that valuable seeding data to get everything started, to get everything rolling forward. 

The point that you bring up about not just for John Deere customers or not just for large customers, or not just for coarse grain customers, it's for everybody agriculture. It's a tool that we can all utilize to help make our operations more efficient, more effective, more profitable, all of that type of stuff. It's really neat to hear that John Deere is invested in continuing to grow opportunities or data options, I guess you could say, to bring into the Operations Center. 

Ryan: Yes. Tony, you mentioned some of these things around seeding too. It's the right time. I think that's part of the reason we're here. It's January, there's no better time to start talking about a data journey than January, right? We've got the seeding windows ahead of us, there's time to start getting things in motion. When it comes to documenting seeding data, you mentioned some of the competitive carts, and we can bring that data to the Operations Center to help your customers and all of our customers start building that foundation of their data set. 

The majority of inputs and the costs of inputs that go in during the seeding season are so high. We know that working with our customers in those spaces, and ensuring that we're capturing what did I do in 2024 seeding season. It might be intuitive like, yes, I know exactly what I put down, I know the rates that I use in this year in 2024, but when it's 2027, or 2029, and we get down the road, what did I do in that window, or should I have made a different choice, that's where we can start to unlock it. 

We start looking at your fertilizer rates that go down at the seeding window compared to the harvest spots. Now we're helping to enable customers to do their own views on what was the right rates, what time did I seed, how is my harvest in comparison to those decisions to make more informed decisions later in the year. This is a great time to start thinking about Operations Center just from laying a foundation of data. 

Tony: Absolutely. That brings me into to my next piece. You talk about laying that foundation, knowing and understanding we can't just take yield data and compare it to nothing and make educated decisions, we need something to compare it to, we need something to look at and learn from. Right now, here in the month of February, we are able to prepare, we're able to get ready for planting season. Let's talk a little bit about what are what is the technology needed, or what are some of the foundational steps that a customer could do right now to prepare themselves. 

We're in the month of February, seeding is going to be here before we know it. How do we get ready? Where do we start for maybe a customer that maybe they've never been in the Operations Center before, or maybe they have an account, but they've never really done anything with it? What are some of the key steps that we can do to set up an operation for success when we talk about the Operations Center? 

Ryan: The easiest way to do this is to reach out to your local John Deere dealer, who will be more than happy to help you walk through those steps. If you're hesitant to take that first step, though, and you maybe want to do a little exploration yourself, the best, easiest first step to take would be to go to your app store for whatever, smartphone you might use today and download Operations Center mobile. Some mobile apps out there are shells of what the main desktop app looks like. Operations Center Mobile, you can do almost everything that the desktop app can do within Operations Center Mobile. I would recommend downloading that, get familiar with the layout. You'll see the map screens on the front, we have tabs for setup. Setup is where you lay that foundation. If you want to go down that path, you can look at setup and see just how easy it is to-- 

Type in a product, type in your seed that you use, type in your fertilizer that you use, and you'll be surprised to see that it drops down in the window. You can select it and start building out your products. If you're comfortable and that feels like a good path, I'd recommend looking into your field boundaries. Field boundaries are a huge thing in data collection because it lets you know geospatially, where is that field at. You can then see it on the map and it starts to enable additional more advanced texts. 

I don't know, Tony, if we're necessarily going to get into the whole world of that, but that's a-- When you talk about foundational steps to take, field boundaries is a huge part of that. Those are the things that I start looking at, is download the app, add your products in, you have equipment that you might want to add in as well. You may actually have an Operations Center org set up today. If you do, you'll start to see that you do have your tractor potentially in there, your combine in there if you have a John Deere tractor or combine. If you don't, you can add those in, or you can add in completely competitive equipment too. 

I know that we love John Deere products, we love John Deere iron, but John Deere Operations Center is one of the products that ironically, if you don't own a single piece of John Deere iron on your farm, but you're just really interested in diving into this space of data and getting value from it, you can use that John Deere Operations Center and it's still in an, it's a no charge thing for you to use as well. 

Then the other foundational thing that I'd encourage all customers to think about is connectivity. We say connectivity, it's getting your equipment connected to the John Deere Operations Center. That gets connected through what's essentially a wireless cell phone modem that exists within the equipment. That allows you to see where's your machine at, what has it been doing. You can start to pull out how many idle hours did I put on my machine this year, how many working hours. It'll give you some fuel level of items off the top. 

Even if you just want to get a baseline monitoring of what is that doing, you'll start to see that right away. In season, we've been putting out some really cool tools on things like estimated time remaining. If you're in a field and let's say, Tony, you've got a tender truck that's bringing seed out, I need to get filled, they can pull up their Operations Center mobile app, see where that tractor's at. Since I set up my boundary, I know how big that field is. As I see that field, the folks they farm with are seeding, it's actually counting down because it knows how many acres I'm covering, it's giving me how much time's left, so I know when I need to get to that next field. 

We know our small grains customers, they farm such a wide space of geography that being able to map out those logistics saves the time at the end of the field, waiting for somebody to either tendering a grain card or if you're in an application season, tendering a sprayer. Those are some of those time-saving things that we can start to unlock too. I could talk for hours on this because you can tell I get excited about it because there's so much opportunity for our customers really at such a low or no cost to start leveraging too. 

Tony: Absolutely. It is a no cost. The Operations Center and Operations Center Mobile is a no-cost solution to be able to get in. Of course, in February here, we talk about seeding. That's what's coming up. It's not just about seeding, it's about the whole operation, the whole growing season. It's not just about the air seeders, it's about the tender trucks, the grain trucks, whatever we're utilizing, John Deere also has solutions to get those pieces connected. 

Actually, back in January, John Deere introduced something really big. I know some of the small grains customers are in more remote areas, Montana, Canada, whatever it may be, that maybe they don't have cell phone connectivity. John Deere announced that they're partnering with Starlink, the satellite internet, Elon Musk internet. That's really exciting from a connectivity standpoint. 

Ryan: Yes, it really is. You may have seen some of this. There was a Wall Street Journal article that came out on this as well, that partnership and talking about what that looks like. We'll be excited to share more as we get-- We'll have some units out running here this fall and be excited to share more and more, but know that there's those customers that will really benefit from having that connectivity in areas that historically have no cell coverage or no connectivity and know that that's a challenge that our customers face universally, is getting high-speed internet access in rural areas of the country. We're excited to have some paths to start supporting that. 

Tony: It was a really big announcement, again, that was made back in January to really add to the connectivity. We know that we're not growing crops in the center of a metropolis that has 5G connection, this and that. John Deere has come to the table with additional solutions to keep customers in more remote areas completely connected. That goes into talking about, like you said, when you cover a large geographical area or a remote area, the logistics of all of it, knowing where you are, knowing what you do. 

You talked about boundaries. That's something that I think often gets overlooked, where traditionally we looked at boundaries and we said, okay, it's going to control my section control, I'm going to be able to see where the field is, but there's really not much value beyond that. That's not the case anymore. The Operations Center and the boundaries are laying a foundational path for so much more in the future. 

Ryan: Yes. There are some things right now, again, that customers can take advantage of. We have a new feature called Turn Automation, a relatively new feature, where-- now we've had AutoTrac for two-plus decades at this point. We call AutoTrac Turn Automation where as we get to your headland or towards the end of the field that's mapped out with the boundary so the machine knows where that boundary is, we'll get that automatic turn and the implement raise lower and keep going. That's available on tractors today, tractors with a cart. We're able to do that application. Stay tuned. 

Harvest will be going as well this year in 2024. There are some awesome things on that Turn Automation that are enabled with boundaries and that's on-- We can actually get that from a hardware side, move back quite a bit. We talk about 10-year-old-plus equipment that can benefit with Turn Automation, brand-new tech on older John Deere equipment. That's really exciting as well because it's not just something that's for the individuals who are buying a brand new tractor or brand new products. We keep wanting to make sure that we're enabling all of the equipment that's in the market with that tech. 

Another one also is Implement Guidance. If you're doing the other small grains one, inter-row seeding is a huge thing in our small grains friends. Being able to have that Implement Guidance in inter-row seeding and being able to consistently put your seeding down in between the previous year's rows is another thing that we can unlock, again, going back several generations of tractors. 

Tony: That's a great point you bring up. Again, it's all starting with the foundation of the Operations Center, getting every pass documented, making sure we're documenting our seeding passes, we're going out there, we're spraying, we're coming back with the combine. You mentioned combine AutoTrac Turn Automation. That was released right at the end of 2023. I can about imagine some of these small grains customers, large, wide-open fields, you get those boundaries in the Operations Center. That combine, and I got to experience it firsthand, soybean harvest last year, end of 2023. Turn Automation on a combine is as simple as it sounds. That is an amazing technology. Not to have to turn around. 

Now, today, we have to lift and lower the head in order to do that, or I should say, the automation is not lifting and lowering the head today, but the combine turns itself around, whether you're doing the circle in or circle out, and it knows where you've been and where you haven't been. Such a simple technology, but so amazing. When you're in there, the lowered stress level, you can focus on what's happening, you don't have to-- your arm isn't sore at the end of the day from turning the combine. There's just so much to it. 

Again, it goes back to the Operations Center and high-quality boundaries around that field to make sure that the system knows where it is, when it needs to turn, all of that. Just the level of advancement and how all of it starts with the Operations Center and grows into so much more technology. It is no longer I think back to APEX or we go back to JD office, JD map, it was agronomic data. That's all we were doing with it. It was we're creating these pretty colorful maps thinking that we can maybe make decisions off of that, but now it's so much more than that that. The advanced technologies moving forward, everything that is yet to come is all foundational with the Operations Center. 

Ryan: Yes. It's been fun to talk with you, Tony, because we talked a lot about getting started in the Operations Center, and you can see the excitement that we have in this and the advanced things that you start to unlock as you get more and more set up and build that foundation. There are even topics of things we call work plans on deploying seeding rates, deploying guidance lines and deploying boundaries. Again, there's that word boundaries coming up, directly to equipment. That way, how many times do you have customers or have you pulled into a field and been like, is this the right field? 

If you have someone who's unfamiliar with the area because there are, again, such broad areas to cover with Work Planner, when you pull into that boundary, the machine recognizes it, it pulls up your information, and you're up and going. You're not digging through a product list that you may not have cleaned out in 10 years. It's giving you the right products at the right time, and you can set that up from your phone on Operations Center Mobile, you can adjust it on your phone. 

We're right at that tip of the spear, what we're talking about today, getting ourselves started but once you're started, the door really opens up to what you can do to make, just make your life easier when you're in the season, and you can spend your time now. It's been a really cold January that we've gone through. You can spend that time in your office getting things set up now, so when you get into the throes of the season, you can just go execute the job. 

Tony: Absolutely, and that's what I always say. Us in the northern states, we get this thing called winter. We have the opportunity for a little bit of downtime. Now, we know all of our listeners don't have that luxury. Sometimes it's go, go, go, but that's one of the things I like about Operations Center Mobile. We all carry around mobile devices, whether it be just your cell phone or iPads or tablets, whatever it may be. Operations Center Mobile, we don't have 100% functionality on the mobile side, but we can do so much in mobile. We can create work plans. 

You think back to when we were doing setup files, we couldn't create a setup file on the mobile platform, but with Work Plans, we can do that right there right at the field edge. We don't need the web-based platform in order to do it. Just the on-the-go, whether you have that downtime or that winter season or not, the John Deere Operations Center is such a beneficial tool for your operation. 

Ryan, if people want to learn more, we talked a lot on this podcast, we could sit here for the rest of the day and chat about the benefits and everything that can be done, but if any of our listeners maybe they're at this stage they just want to learn more about it, some of its capabilities, where can they go, who can they talk to? 

Ryan: I'll start with where can they go right now if you're listening to this. You can go to You can learn more about the product there. I mentioned, go to your app store, download Operations Center Mobile. It's free to download and free to use. There's not a charge for any of these things that we've talked about. Experience that. Also, reach out to your John Deere dealer. They're going to be excited to help you, excited to walk through that with you and get you down that path. 

Tony: Then let's leave our listeners with a couple call-to-action items. Maybe they are familiar with the Operations Center, maybe they have an account set up, what are some things right now here in February to make sure we're prepared, what are just a couple things that those customers can do to set themselves up for success for growing season 2024? 

Ryan: Totally. We talked about boundaries. That's been a buzzword that we've used in here. Set up your field boundaries. That's another one I'd recommend if you maybe don't feel 100% comfortable on getting your boundaries set up, your John Deere dealer is a great resource for that too. Make sure your fields have boundaries. You're going to start to unlock so much potential with an Operations Center when you have boundaries. That'd be a great call to action. 

Then make sure to go through your setup data. If you're in Operations Center, you're familiar with it, go into setup, check out your products, your seed chems, your fertilizers. It's a chance to do some housekeeping and archive the ones that you maybe don't use anymore, load in the new ones that you have for the year or that you think you're going to use as the season progresses. That's another great one to do. Then I'd go into your equipment. Make sure that all of your serialized equipment is loaded in Operations Center, whether that's John Deere equipment or your competitive equipment. Put that in there. Those are three great things to do, is to dial in on your setup area with boundaries, with your products, and with your equipment. 

Tony: There you go. To all the listeners out there, specifically those of you in the small grains markets, couple of things Ryan mentioned there, make sure you go and do it. Utilize now, utilize the downtime to make sure that you're prepared, setting your operation up for success. Utilizing a tool like the John Deere Operations Center, Operations Center Mobile. Make sure you get that downloaded and just prepare yourself for doing a great job. What you do, you only get-- 

Somebody told me in a farmer's life, depending on if or when you retire, you only get so many years to plant a crop. If mistakes are made or oopsies happen, you got to wait until next year to make that correction. Utilizing the Operations Center as a tool to continue to do well, be efficient, be effective, be profitable, do the best that you can do with the land and the equipment that you have. I just want to thank you, Ryan, for taking the time here. 

We're here at a Precision Ag business meeting here recording this. We learned a lot from the dealer side of things, and we got to learn so much about the technology and everything that we can do as a dealer. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to sit down with me, talk about the Operations Center, and just share some information. 

Ryan: You bet. It's been fun to be down here with John Deere dealers throughout the country. Canada and Australia as well are all here in Kansas City. Tony, it's been fun to chat. 

Tony: Please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we're streaming this out to such as Apple podcast, Google podcast, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Finally, make sure to follow RDO equipment company on Facebook, Instagram, X, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on X @RDOTonyK. 

Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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