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Blue Holland tractors in a cherry orchard. Image credit: Blue Holland

BREAKING: Specialty crop equipment leader CNH partners with Bluewhite to bring autonomous tech to orchards, vineyards

June 25, 2024

  • Equipment manufacturer CNH has struck a multi-phase partnership with autonomous faming startup Bluewhite to bring the latter’s technology to tractors.
  • The partnership will integrate Bluewhite’s autonomous system with tractors made by New Holland, of which CNH is the parent company.
  • New Holland tractors will be able to operate autonomously in orchards, vineyards and other speciality crops.
New Holland tractors in a cherry orchard. Image credit: New Holland

‘Much-needed’ autonomous technology for growers

The relationship between the two companies began a couple years ago, a time when both companies were considering how best to deploy agtech innovations to orchards and vineyards, says Bluewhite chief business officer Alon Ascher.

“New Holland was a natural choice for collaboration as the leading OEM for the orchard and vineyard equipment sector, but it was our shared values and joint commitment to innovation that forged the long-term partnership we have today.”

“The integration of Bluewhite into our technology stack allows our customers to access much-needed autonomous technology in an attainable aftermarket solution,” says Carlo Lambro, brand president of New Holland.

Rather than making tractors, Bluewhite outfits existing machines with its system that uses computer vision, AI and navigation tech to execute tasks autonomously.

Founder Ben Alfi has likened Bluewhite’s tech in the past to “an IKEA build” the company sends out to a dealership. “In the morning, it’s a regular tractor. Two dealership workers can transform it in 14 hours. At the end of the day, the tractor is autonomous,” he said in an AgFunderNews interview earlier this year.

At the time of that interview, he also noted that “The big players that have been here a long time, they understand they cannot do it alone and they’re willing to embrace companies like us and cooperate.”

New Holland and Bluewhite will collaborate on the manufacturing, distribution and integration of Bluewhite’s tech into New Holland’s machines, allowing the latter to operate “fully autonomously” in orchards, vineyards and other specialty crop environments.

Benefits for New Holland customers

“Autonomous farming operations will yield consistent results that are carried out precisely and on-time while reducing human error and worker fatigue,” according to Asher, who adds that Bluewhite’s solution also improves worker safety and provides more visibility to management through data.

Meanwhile, “execution allows growers to reduce the need for workers to operate dangerous machinery and the precise application of harmful chemicals, boosting worker safety.”

Food safety benefits from autonomy too, he says, as precision application capable with automation reduces the need for chemical crop protection solutions, while “the implementation of autonomous technology creates new high-potential opportunities jobs for diverse groups in the grower community.

“Bluewhite’s mission is to build a more resilient agricultural sector worldwide by boosting productivity and efficiency on farms through the application of autonomous technologies. Our partnership with CNH is a milestone in achieving that mission and will enable  growers around the world to have access to our transformational technology, starting in North America.”
A New Holland tractor outfitted with Bluewhite’s autonomous technology. Image credit: New Holland

Addressing labor shortages

Specialty crops — including fruits, tree nuts, vegetables, beans and horticulture crops — account for only about 10% of US farm operations, but they have the highest labor costs. Recent numbers from the USDA put specialty crop labor costs at 40% of total cash expenses for a farm compared to 4% for corn and 3% for soybeans.
“The permanent crop sector is labor intensive, requiring many employees to work year-round on a tight schedule,” explains Asher. “This sector is vital for food security yet faces challenges including a labor shortage, cumbersome regulations, and rising labor and input costs. California alone produces around 70% of US fruits and vegetables, but now struggles to fill tractor-driving positions.”
According to a report last year from Western Growers, 70% of US specialty crop growers are now investing in various autonomous technologies to assist operations.
Asher notes that most specialty crops also require “many rounds of pesticide applications at rising costs threatening sector profitability in recent years.” (See the Environmental Working Group’s infamous “dirty dozen.”)
In 2024, Bluewhite introduced precision spraying  capabilities to address this while reducing chemical drift and water needs with targeted application.

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