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 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Names Idaho Custom Applicator As 2014 Operator of the Year
December 4, 2014
Praised for his quality work and strong customer relationships, Idaho professional farm applicator Brent Klein has been named by AGCO Application Equipment as 2014 Operator of the Year. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Operator Of The Year Finalists
November 20, 2014
Four custom applicators have been selected by AGCO Application Equipment as finalists for 2014 Operator of the Year, an honor that recognizes them as being among the top professionals in their industry throughout North America. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Ag Acquires Colorado Aerial Application Outlet
November 17, 2014
Ft. Lupton, CO-based Reck Aviation — a full-service chemical application company providing aerial crop applications of fertilizers and crop protection products — will operate as part of Pinnacle's AgOne Application Services brand. Read More

Top 100 Articles

CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer CropScience’s ILeVO Approved By EPA
December 11, 2014
EPA has approved ILeVO, the only seed treatment that protects the root system against infections caused by the Sudden Death Syndrome fungus and has activity against dangerous nematodes. Read More
Biologicals in Emerging Markets Map.
Crop InputsBiocontrols Could Quadruple By 2025; Will Regulators Pl…
December 11, 2014
The European experience with GMOs offers caution — and a promise — for biologicals. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Donates $75,000 To Feeding America
December 10, 2014
The donation will support Feeding America’s National Produce Program, an initiative that helps with planning, transportation and logistics to ensure fresh produce deliveries to the 200 member food banks around the country. Read More
InsecticidesHow To Avoid Aphid Infestation In Winter Wheat
December 10, 2014
The best strategy for managing aphid infestations in winter wheat — and the potential yellow dwarf diseases that they transmit — is prevention, according to a South Dakota State University Plant Pathology field specialist. Read More
LegislationDufault Installed As New ARA Chair
December 10, 2014
Dave Dufault, Vice President and General Manager of J.R. Simplot Company's Retail Business, was installed as the 2015 Chairman of the Board for ARA on December 4. Read More