EarningsTrimble announced today that it has acquired privately-held IRON Solutions to help automate farm operations by linking equipment dealers, seed and chemical providers to the grower’s ERP and CRM systems. That’s a very cool idea, and one that’s been used in the automotive and aerospace (really, any just-in-time manufacturing operation) for years — why shouldn’t agriculture employ the same principles?

Trimble’s press release says that IRON Solutions manages over 15 million data points annually from over 1,200 manufacturers and over 2,200 retail sources throughout North America, all geared towards connecting buyers and sellers. IRON Solutions publishes what sounds like the Kelley Blue Book* of farm equipment — a listing of new and used equipment with market values, from which buyer and seller can negotiate purchases.

From there, IRON seems to have spread its offerings out to create value for retailers and growers. Its IRON Guides offering tracks equipment sales, including the specifications, options and adjustments for condition and hours of use — measures of wear that would tend to lower prices and add-ons that would raise them. Then there’s IRON Search, a marketplace for where growers can sell, browse and buy equipment online.

Some of the offerings stray a bit into what we would call PLM. IRON Builder lets equipment manufacturers to manage product configuration and promotions through their dealer networks, while IRON Vector uses analytics to benchmark and forecast equipment sales across specifications and economic conditions. We also venture a bit into ERP, with IRON HQ, a cloud-based enterprise system for equipment dealers; and Precision HQ, a cloud-based enterprise system for agriculture technology dealers.

Trimble’s Joe Denniston, VP of the Agriculture Division said in the announcement, “The IRON Solutions information together with Connected Farm will provide growers with a critical element in understanding their equipment lifecycle, enabling them to more efficiently manage their fleets.”

I still tend to think of farms as relatively low-tech; I’m a city kid and the farms in my part of the US tend to be small, often family-run affairs. Trimble is trying hard to change both our perceptions of what a farm can be, and how a modern farm operates. The Connected Farm is creating the possibility of a digital enterprise for growers and has the potential to change farming, much as the advent of CNC, MRP and other digital technologies changed manufacturing.

Financial terms of Trimble’s acquisition of IRON Solutions were not disclosed.

*Back in the days before the Internet made massive amounts of information easily available, the Kelley Blue Book was the source of information for car prices in the US. Insurers used it to figure out how much a car was worth, consumers used it to figure out resale and trade-in values — it’s still a great source of information, though I don’t know if the “Book” is published today.