International farm equipment manufacturer John Deere has acquired a robotic spraying specialist in a move to boost its precision agriculture offer.

The company has agreed to buy Blue River Technology, the California-based business established in 2011 to apply machine learning to agriculture, from the Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund for $305 million. Monsanto Growth Ventures and Syngenta Ventures had invested in the business.

Blur River is working on machine learning systems to thin row crops and target weeds, applications which Deere believes can be developed for a wider range of farm machinery. Its integrated “See & Spray” computer vision and artificial intelligence technology enables growers to reduce the use of herbicides by up to 90% through spraying only where weeds are present, thus optimising input use as a key objective of precision agriculture. The company has mainly worked on lettuce and cotton to date.

“Blue River is advancing precision agriculture by moving farm management decisions from the field level to the plant level,” says its co-founder and chief executive Jorge Heraud. “We are using computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to help smart machines detect, identify, and make management decisions about every single plant in the field.”

“We welcome the opportunity to work with a Blue River Technology team that is highly skilled and intensely dedicated to rapidly advancing the implementation of machine learning in agriculture,” adds John May, president agricultural solutions and chief information officer at Deere. “As a leader in precision agriculture, John Deere recognizes the importance of technology to our customers. Machine learning is an important capability for Deere’s future.”