Drying seed corn is labor intensive and time consuming. Many farmers sleep in their truck to monitor the highly-sensitive process.
Sioux City based Isadore Ag is a seed dryer management system designed and manufactured by Dan Elliott and Russell Valentine.
For most farmers corn dryers are a basically a black box, according to Elliott, and many farmers find it difficult to know what’s going on during the process.
Currently installed in 19 seed corn dryers across the Midwest and Canada, Isadore Ag collects and uploads data from corn dryers so farmers can analyze the data and make more educated decisions backed by analytics.
The platform allows farmers to see how far along in the dry process the crop is, including stats on how many hours the corn was drying, the temperatures of the vents, the moisture of the corn coming in, the moisture during the process, and the moisture of the corn after the process.
From rules of thumb to data-driven decisions
Elliott said that the team was able to quickly identify two segments of customers for the product. One that is desperate for the technology (smaller businesses) and another segment made up of larger companies that were less enthusiastic about paying for the new technology.
“Our technology more so verifies what they believe is happening in the corn dryer for larger businesses,” said Elliott. “But the smaller businesses are actually learning a lot from the platform.”
Elliott explained that the corn drying process is actually only about five days of an eight month process for farmers.
“The way [farmers] operate their dryers is dominated by rules of thumb that were established in 1920 or 1940,” said Elliott.
Along the way, the team realized that they were missing certain ways of bridging data with potential decision making, but they are working on a solution that will eventually lead to major innovation within the process and the industry.
“This week we’re actually installing a new type of sensor that will give us new information that will help complete the picture,” said Elliott. “Hopefully by 2018 we will be able to have a predictor of the drying process and how much time is left in the drying time. That will be the first time these farmers will see innovation in the corn-drying process since 1980 or 1940.”
Less disruptive custom solutions
When looking at competition in the industry, the team noticed that competing businesses require farmers to trash everything in their barn and adopt totally new machinery.
The Isadore Ag team hopes to reform that process by having farmers simply add on new hardware, rather than disrupting all of their former processes.
“Because Russ and I are able design and manufacture our own technology, we are able to make more customizable solutions for each customer that will end up costing less,” said Elliott.
Elliott added that if a customer wants a particular customization that the team will work out a deal with them and make the technology as tailored as they want.
Finding the right business model
Bootstrapped since its founding in 2010, Isadore Ag received a $25,000 grant from the State of Iowa to help develop the product and platform.
The Technology Association of Iowa also set up the team with serial entrepreneur David Gion, who helped the team price the technology and find a business model that worked well for the team and the customers.
“We started out charging for access to the software, the installation process and replacements, and we really hated it,” said Elliott. “Being the nerds that we are, we couldn’t handle it when something wasn’t working properly.”
After working with Gion, the team decided it worked much better to lease the hardware to the customers and have them pay a yearly fee.
“[The farmers] have access to the hardware, software, installation and maintenance labor all under that one fee,” said Elliott. “We also monitor their systems so we can contact them and let them know if a sensor isn’t working or if it’s not collecting data the way that it should.”
From data collection to actionable insight
Elliott explained that there is an industry-wide problem of collecting mass amounts of data and not knowing what to do with it.
“The farmers often look at this data and think, ‘Now what?’” said Elliott. “We’re trying to make tools that take the data and turn it into information that will allow farmers to make better decisions.”
Elliott said that the team has collected data like drunken sailors, but they are just now finding new ways to use it.
“It’s a lot easier to collect data than it is to create a tool that helps advise a busy farmer,” said Elliott.
Seeking partners for new markets
Elliott explained that there are uses for the Isadore Ag technology beyond corn seed dryers. Some potential markets include dairy, chicken and pork farming.
“We need to find more people to work with so we can recreate our process in different markets,” said Elliott. “I think that there is a lot of opportunity that are sort of in this Internet of Things space.”
Elliott added that there are less difficult applications for their technology that they’d love to get into, and they’re currently looking for partners to expand their business.
“We know that there’s a lot of value in the data we’ve collected, and we really just want to make something that people actively use,” said Elliott.
Mel Lucks is a regional freelance journalist and former intern for Silicon Prairie News and AIM.