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Deere & Co. may be most famous for its iconic green and yellow tractors, but those vehicles — along with the rest of the company’s large agricultural, construction and forestry equipment — now boast advanced communications systems that enable farmers to capture data for agronomic decision-making and allow different pieces of machinery to talk to each other.

This development has gained significant traction under the leadership of Samuel Allen, who became Deere’s chief executive officer in 2009. “It’s the ability for the farmer to not only optimize his equipment and his whole logistics but also to get the data off the piece of equipment and put it into a system that’s able to analyze and tweak what we call his prescription of what he’s going to do next year to improve yields,” he says. “Farmers do see 5 to 10 percent year-over-year yield improvements by doing this.”

Allen, 62, notes that the Moline, Illinois–based manufacturer employs about 2,400 software developers. “A lot of people don’t appreciate that we have that much going on in our intelligent solutions group and that level of sophistication,” he believes. “Take one of our flagship tractors, the 8R row crop tractor. It will have more lines of software code in it than the first Microsoft operating system had, and it will have more computing power than the first space shuttle.”

Another major accomplishment of Allen’s tenure has been the company’s growing presence in markets outside the U.S., exemplified by the opening of three facilities in China, two in Brazil and one each in India and Russia. At these centers Deere makes construction machinery, farm tractors and seeding and tillage equipment for use locally, to meet customer needs and reduce the costs of shipping products from other areas.

And, despite suppressed crop prices and a projected drop in total equipment sales amid a sluggish global economy, Deere has been spending a record amount on research and development — more than $1.4 billion in each of the past three fiscal years — and is maintaining that commitment, according to Allen. “We’ve chosen to stay at that high level, to continue to bring out a suite of new products over the next couple of years to help mitigate some of the downturn,” he explains, pointing to the company’s first four-track tractor, as well as a hybrid wheel loader that achieves a 40 percent improvement in fuel economy over conventional models.