Leica: Moving The Needle

Leica GeoSystems raised a lot of eyebrows back in 2007 when it released the mojoRTK guidance system. Long known worldwide as a leader in precision measurement technology for markets outside ag, its initial entry into the U.S. agriculture market was loaded with capabilities. In fact, mojoRTK proved to be ahead of its time for most end users, built to take advantage of tractors and equipment compatibility for which U.S. equipment was not quite ready.

Harlan Little joined the company earlier this year to guide it through a phase that could be described as Leica 2.0 — finding a place for the company’s technology in the U.S. market, and setting a course forward that will make its products more accessible and more attractive to the U.S. ag market. Little discussed Leica’s challenges and opportunities with CropLife® magazine.

Q. Talk about Leica’s philosophy upon entering the U.S. market.

Leica is a large, well financed company that certainly understands GPS. We have a world-wide business supplying products for positioning, surveying, land leveling and machine control, but we have not had much exposure to the ag market, particularly in the United States. In Australia and Europe, Leica is better known in agriculture.

I think Leica caught everyone’s attention when it broke out with a lower-cost steering system using the concept that all tractors will be automatic-steering ready in the near future. The game-changer will eventually come when manufacturers have steering-ready tractors, which will make adoption easier and more cost effective. Leica has been on the leading edge relative to where things are going with the technology, but we have not invested time and energy on what we feel will ultimately go away — the hydraulic kit. Our aim is to make sure the tractors that are automatic steering-ready will be able to reliably plug in and steer equipment, and make it available at a price that an operator can justify. Taking this approach has allowed us to really focus, but it has also hampered us a little because it has restricted where we can penetrate the marketplace.

Q. How are things changing now and in the future?

The original way we were structured was really an Internet business model, where someone could buy the system online, plug it into their steering-ready tractor and be ready to go. The marketplace was not ready for that approach — we realized that we needed to build a dealership-distribution model and have knowledgeable people who are available to answer questions and sell the products. While we have a product designed to be plug and play, selling without a local dealer goes against the norm of what is expected with technology equipment.

We are in the midst of expanding our sales force and finding dealerships interested in taking on Leica products. We have a number of key dealers out there, but we need more coverage. Farther into the future, once everybody has ISO CAN in place, we will be ready to plug and play and steer the tractor. So when ISO CAN becomes standard equipment, I think that will drive interest in our control products.

Q. Leica has been working a lot with CORS RTK networks – how it this coming along?

While at AGCO, I was working on telemetry, and now it is kind of fun to be on the side of the whole thing … Leica has been developing CORS (continuously operating reference station) networks for a couple of years, and while the technology hasn’t hit its maximum potential as a tracking and communications system yet, the connections are all there and the infrastructure is in place to develop a working system.

Leica is very much involved in working with state departments of transportation and some non-ag situations putting infrastructure in place that also will be able to be leveraged in the ag market. The use of existing RTK networks in a true network situation instead of a tower sending the signal that allows the user to move anywhere in the network and have coverage. From that standpoint and we are doing that, and while we may not have as broad a line of product offerings as others, what we do have definitely works.

Leica is a global leader in advancing reference network technology, and is working with state departments of transportation to install this type of infrastructure. While ag isn’t driving these installations, the ag market will certainly be able to leverage these investments. When using a signal from a true RTK network (as opposed to a single tower or a series of un-networked towers), the user can move anywhere in that network and have coverage. In fact, Leica has just announced its new SmartNet product that is an RTK network solution provided via cellular communication.

Q. Will Leica be looking to establish any development agreements or partnerships in the future?

In today’s world, our growth is really a double strategy. We have the brand name out there, but we are interested in partnering. I definitely think that instead of reinventing the wheel, we will look at how we can tie our technology into someone else’s, make both partners’ products better and really create some synergies. We see the maturation of the technology market and I think it only makes sense to try to do that.

Of course, we will still keep a keen eye on keeping a competitive edge — there has to be some give and take.

Q. Do you see any hidden challenges for technology in the years ahead?

The growth of RTK networks of all colors and shapes are rapidly filling in the areas that need access, but the issue I fear we may run into is data blackouts. More and more data is being processed via the cell system, so if the infrastructure does not keep up with the demand for wireless data transfer, we could see data blackouts occurring.

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories

CropLife 100Two Iowa-Based Ag Co-ops To Merge
August 27, 2014
The Board of Directors and management of United Western Coop, Missouri Valley, IA has completed a merger with Heartland Co-op, West Des Moines, IA, effective September 1, 2014. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
Eric SfiligojMAGIE 2014: A ShowStopping Event
August 8, 2014
The kick-off to the summer show season, Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE), takes place next week in Bloomington, IL. Read More
EmployeesAsmark Institute Dedicates New Training Center To Ford West
August 6, 2014
The Asmark Institute plans to recognize the retired industry leader's years of service to the fertilizer industry at the new state-of-the-art facility in Owensboro, KY. Read More

Trending Articles

ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More
EquipmentAdvance Your Technology IQ At MAGIE
August 13, 2014
The Midwest AG Industries Exposition (August 20-21) is the place you need to be to see, study and evaluate how new advances in the equipment, operations, crop protection and fertility sectors can help your business prosper. Read More
HerbicidesScouting Key To Next Season’s Soybean Herbicide Program
August 12, 2014
When growing soybeans, growers need to think ahead to stay one step ahead of weeds. That means examining weed threats and evaluating which herbicides work best. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Lemon Ag Services
August 4, 2014
The acquisition of Lemon Ag fits BRANDT’s aggressive corporate strategy of providing superior agronomic advice and services for customers in central Illinois. Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Resurgence Of Crop Protection
August 4, 2014
Plenty of new offerings over the next few years should see a rebirth for the crop protection products category in terms of market share. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires California-Based Retailer
August 29, 2014
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings will acquire Kerman Ag Resources, Inc., which will operate under Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
Allied Cooperative Grain Plant
ManagementArcadia Co-op To Merge With Allied Cooperative
August 28, 2014
Allied Cooperative has announced that members of Arcadia Co-op voted in favor of a merger with Allied Cooperative, paving the way for the consolidation which will be effective on December 1, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesBioinsecticide VENERATE Now Registered In California
August 27, 2014
Marrone Bio Innovations' VENERATE is a new tool to help California growers control crop-damaging insect pests, fight the development of insect resistance and reduce pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Read More
CropLife 100Two Iowa-Based Ag Co-ops To Merge
August 27, 2014
The Board of Directors and management of United Western Coop, Missouri Valley, IA has completed a merger with Heartland Co-op, West Des Moines, IA, effective September 1, 2014. Read More
FertilizerKoch Expands AGROTAIN Nitrogen Stabilizer Portfolio
August 26, 2014
Koch Agronomic Services, LLC has added two new innovative nitrogen stabilizers to the AGROTAIN product family – AGROTAIN ADVANCED and AGROTAIN DRI-­MAXX. Read More
Seed/BiotechDuPont To Build Two Seed Treatment Centers
August 26, 2014
DuPont has announced construction on two state-of-the-art centers dedicated to developing and testing seed treatment formulations, applications and seed handling techniques in an important step toward bringing new solutions to growers. Read More
Seed/BiotechLoveland Products Acquires A Controlling Interest In Ag…
August 26, 2014
Loveland Products, a subsidiary of Agrium , has announced the company has acquired a controlling interest in Agricen, a Dallas-area agricultural biotechnology company delivering biochemical-based products for efficient and sustainable plant nutrition. Read More
StewardshipUp Close Look At The 2014 Environmental Respect Award W…
August 25, 2014
The 2014 Environmental Respect Award winners were honored recently at the 24th annual event in Wilmington, DE. Read More
Eric SfiligojAg Science Rejection Carries Consequences
August 25, 2014
As innuendo and fear dog the regulatory process, agriculture can’t get the new tools it needs to combat world hunger. Read More
LegislationFarmers Dismayed As New Farm Bill Dumps Direct Payments
August 25, 2014
The threatened end of cash subsidies to the nation’s row crop farmers dates back through at least the last two iterations of national agriculture policy legislation. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK CEO To Retire
August 22, 2014
GROWMARK chief executive officer Jeff Solberg has announced his retirement effective September 15, 2014. Read More
InsecticidesDuPont’s Prevathon Approved For Dry Beans
August 22, 2014
DuPont Prevathon insect control powered by Rynaxypyr has received EPA registration for foliar use on dry bean crops, including dried shelled peas and beans. Read More
ManagementNCGA DuPont New Leaders Program Enters Sophmore Season
August 20, 2014
The National Corn Growers Association and DuPont are pleased to announce the second year of the NCGA DuPont New Leaders Program. Read More
FungicidesVerdesian Links Up With Mitsui, Hokusan
August 20, 2014
Mitsui Chemicals Agro, Inc., and Hokusan Co., announced the signing of an exclusive licensing agreement allowing Verdesian Life Sciences global access to its patented technology for suppressing mycotoxin contamination in wheat and barley. Read More
SprayersUniversity Of Illinois Introduces New Spray App
August 18, 2014
University of Illinois Extension has released a new smartphone app for making sprayer-related calculations. Pesticide Spray Calculator, or Spray Calc, Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta Names New Manager Of Federal Government Relati…
August 18, 2014
Laura Wood Peterson has joined Syngenta as manager of federal government relations, based in Washington, DC. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science …
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More