Ag Tech

By Dana Melcher, Corridor Communications Intern

Facetime and farming. Apps and agriculture. Cloud computing and combines. What do these words have anything to do with each other? In the Cultivation Corridor region – more than you would think.

At one time a farming operation may have consisted of 20 men and 20 horses. Eventually it turned into 20 men and a few tractors. Today it may just be a single tractor – and possibly even a driverless one.

Precision agriculture enables farmers to produce more with less, and with an expected world population of 9 billion by 2020 – making more with less is necessary. Technology has made its way into the ag industry and is being used to make more precise, measured and suitable farming decisions.

These technological advancements are happening right here in the Cultivation Corridor. Ames-based company Ag Leader was the first to develop and commercialize the on-the-go yield monitor, showing farmers the variation in yields in their fields. This innovative company began in the garage of president and founder, Al Meyers, nearly 30 years ago and has grown to over 300 employees in Ames and all over the country. Ag Leader’s products allow farmers to learn more about their land – giving them specifics that can’t be seen from the cab of a combine. These products create massive amounts of data that can now be moved wirelessly, so farmers have access to data wherever and whenever on their smartphones and tablets.

AgSolver, another Ames company, uses technology to show what pieces of land are not profitable with their online software, Profit Zone Manager. The program doesn’t cost nearly as much as a tractor, but can significantly improve efficiency and yield by providing farmers with the information they need to make wise planting decisions. The company also recently partnered with Peoples Company to create WhatsMyFarmWorth.com, where farmland values can be easily estimated. The website uses account location, soil type and other information from public sources and allows users to zoom in on a farm, identify field boundaries and download reports within minutes to a computer, tablet or smartphone.

And then there’s the Des Moines-based startup AgriSync that recently acquired $450,000 in seed funding to continue to develop and market a two-way video app that allows farmers to speak with agriculture advisors in real-time via smartphone. It’s basically FaceTime for farmers. The app serves as an alternative to an advisor having to hop in his truck and drive out to the field when a problem or question arises. Instant video access lets the advisor to see the problem instantly, saving time and money.

Business groups have taken notice that ag tech companies thrive in Central Iowa, which is why developing a plan for an ag-tech startup accelerator is a focus for the Greater Des Moines Partnership in 2016. Startup accelerators provide entrepreneurs seed money in exchange for a piece of the company and put the new ventures through three months of fast-paced business development. After three months, entrepreneurs show off their projects to peers and potential investors during a “demo day.”

This year Iowa ag tech companies will have the chance to be recognized at the Prometheus Awards, Iowa’s largest and most prestigious distinction dedicated to recognizing the leaders of Iowa’s high-tech industry. The Ag Technology Company of the Year Award, presented by Cultivation Corridor, will go to a company that demonstrates industry leadership in creating and deploying technology that contributes to more efficient and sustainable agriculture.

Technological advancements have influenced everyone – even the farmer standing out in his field. Iowa has noticed this audience and this opportunity and is taking full advantage of it. If California has Silicon Valley, then Iowa has Cultivation Corridor.