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A dusty gravel road, the smell of wet soil after a thunderstorm and a John Deere tractor. All three these elements are characteristic of the South-African farming landscape.
In a previous issue of ProAgri we published an article about the most brainy John Deere tractor ever but a question still hovered in our minds: Exactly where did all this originate from and what exactly made an American company become such part and parcel of South African farms and the lifestyle of its farmers?
John Deere marketed its first plough in 1837; one that could till the tough soils of the American Midwest and which prevented the tacky clay sticking to the ploughshare, forcing the share out of the ground. Four years later he had produced a hundred of these ploughs. However, it did not take long before he encountered problems: The market demanded pulling power which could make this type of plough move faster than a team of horses or oxen.
The first time when the name John Deere was mentioned in South Africa, was when two of these ploughs were sold at an auction in the Eastern Cape in 1878. History tells us that a ship ran aground on the East Coast in the vicinity of Bathurst and that two of these ploughs were among the salvageable cargo in the ship’s hold.
In March 1912 the John Deere board of directors decided that the firm would develop its first tractor. For the next five years this project demanded their attention and in the end the Dain Type – named after the designer – became reality.
However, these tractors were too expensive for the market and only 90 of the model were sold. In 1918 John Deere bought the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company and started manufacturing the Waterloo Boy tractor in earnest. This tractor, with its elementary and sturdy design, could be offered to the market at a more affordable price – in 1918 the Waterloo Boy was sold at $700 against the approximate $1 200, which was the price of the Dain Type.
As was wont for any sensible business, John Deere did not stop when they had the Waterloo Boy – there was always the belief of improving a concept. Continuing with redesign and improvement, the Model D was introduced to farmers in 1924. In the following 29 years John Deere sold 161 000 units of this tractor model. Part of the popularity of the model was due the fact that, with its two-cylinder engine, it could pull a triple-furrow plough with ease.
In 1934 John Deere made a further leap with the new Model A tractor. With its 23,5 horsepower (17,5 kW) engine, it soon became the market leader. This tractor also boasted a hydraulic lift mechanism and its rear wheels could be adjusted so that it was able to work differing row widths.
However, John Deere knew the firm would not remain the leader if it merely rested on its laurels – it worked hard at remaining the leader in agricultural mechanisation and in 1938 the Model A-series tractor was launched, succeeded by the Model G. A year later the Model H followed and the M- and R-models were introduced respectively in 1947 en 1949.
The 1950s were characterised by the launching of no fewer than 15 new John Deere models. The tractors featured new technology such as the three point hitch system, power steering and a power take-off (pto) facility.
However, farmers were continuously clamouring for more powerful tractors, which forced John Deere to substitute is two-cylinder engines with newly designed four-cylinder models. By the early 1960s the 1010, 2010, 3010 and 4010 John Deere tractors were launched.
Later in the same decade John Deere also launched its 8010 and 8020 models – the first four wheel drive tractors on the market. A highlight of John Deere’s ingenuity in the 1970s was the 8640-model, which was fitted with an immensely powerful engine of 275 horsepower (205 kW). In the 1980s at least 38 new John Deere models – each more powerful than the previous generation – saw the light.
But, as we know, body muscles perform vastly better when there is a cool head to steer the performance. In die 1990s John Deere started developing the third generation tractors with more electronic control technology enabling the farmer to make the most of his farming insets and to farm with higher precision.
In the new millennium John Deere turned all the more to electronics to produce the most innovative implements. The JD tractors not only became more powerful but also smarter. With continuous improvements and smart design John Deere has been giving its clients only the best over the past 182 years. JD still follow the same winning recipe which made the firm grow from a humble plough to the most advanced John Deere 8RX – the world’s first fixed-frame tractor with four caterpillar tracks, which will also become available in South Africa in 2020.
The 8RX combines artificial intelligence, electronic control utilising the internet, and advanced automatic features which will enable farmers to farm even more efficiently and enable them to remain relevant in the ever-changing competitive global market.