Deere & Company is acquiring Bear Flag Robotics, a startup that develops autonomous driving technology compatible with existing machines.

The deal accelerates Deere’s development and delivery of automation and autonomy on the farm — a move that it views as a solution to the ongoing skilled labor shortage.

Dan Leibfried, director of automation and autonomy at John Deere, said Bear Flag’s ability to retrofit, in-market experience and commitment to safety principles made the company a good candidate for acquisition.

“I believe having a retrofit product allows us to tap into a large install base, and that's one of the big value drivers here is meeting customers where they're at, whether they're in the replacement cycle of upgrading their tractor or they're still working through the cycle of owning the tractor that they bought last year, the year before or 5 years ago. We want to meet them where they're at in order to give them this opportunity to experience autonomy in a meaningful way.”

Deere has been working with Bear Flag since 2019 as part of Deere’s startup collaborator program, an initiative focused on working with startups with technology that could add value for Deere’s customers.

Since then, Bear Flag has implemented automation on several farms in the U.S.

Aubrey Donnellan, one of Bear Flag’s founders, said the company has worked with growers of different sizes in California, operating in orchards, leafy greens and specialty crops like tomatoes.

The company had been mowing and spraying autonomously before finding a niche in autonomous tillage, which has been its focus for the last few years.

“What that really allows is growers can better plan for their operations and run operations longer, so we're seeing increases in productivity, being able to do more crop turns in the year, as well as being able to better right size their organizations for the fluctuations that they can't really foresee.”

Over the next six to 12 weeks, Deere will be exploring how its dealer network will interact with Bear Flag’s technologies, according to Liebfried.

He said dealers will likely receive training about selling and servicing autonomous equipment, similar to previous training and development programs Deere has put in place over the past two decades.

As for retrofitting, Liebfried said it’s yet to be determined how and when that might happen.