For five years the Michigan company FarmLogs has been helping farms with technology that helps map out fields and soil composition, track rainfall and more. FarmLogs got its start in Ann Arbor, but the company recently announced it was expanding into Iowa, opening an office in Des Moines.
How FarmLogs works
Co-founder and CEO Jesse Vollmar grew up on a Michigan farm and discovered a passion for technology at an early age. He started building his own software, and he and co-founder Brad Koch moved to Silicon Valley in 2012 to put their idea through the Y Combinator startup incubator.
FarmLogs uses web-based software to help farmers make decisions like how much seed or fertilizer to put into a field.
“I had been working in cutting edge software for five years, and even with all the incredible and amazing things we were able to do, no one was realizing that ag needed better tech too,” Vollmar said. “I realized there was a huge opportunity to make an impact on ag industry. You can have a pretty fast impact on the whole world if you make agriculture more productive.”
While the idea for FarmLogs started in Silicon Valley, Vollmar said he quickly realized the company needed to be close to customers in the Midwest, and the Ann Arbor location ensured easy access to graduates of the University of Michigan. Iowa had similar benefits.
“We really wanted to tap into the talent pool that we think Iowa has to offer,” Vollmar said. “There’s a great agricultural University in Ames [Iowa State University] studying agronomy and farm business management. It was also a great location because it balances the geographic region we have. Ann Arbor gives us easy access to eastern states, and from Des Moines we can easily serve the rest of the market.”
FarmLogs also already had some staff in Iowa, including its VP of Science, Dr. Tracy Blackmer. The company is looking to place about a dozen team members in Des Moines.
Farmlogs started out with three employees in its first year, but it’s grown to 65 team members. That’s before the expansion into Iowa. Vollmar said the company has nearly doubled in size every year since its founding.
“We quickly realized that three people can only do so much,” Vollmar said. “So we made an effort to understand the needs of our customers and get the right people into the organization. I don’t expect our growth to slow down at all. If Iowa is successful for us, we’ll continue to expand.
Looking to the future
Farmlogs is looking to unveil new offerings in January for the 2017 farming season, and Vollmar hopes the company can grow and innovate for years to come.
He has big ambitions for his company and isn’t following the common model of building something profitable to sell. Farming has been in his family for generations, so he knows he’s in an industry with some longevity behind it.
“This is an industry that isn’t going away anytime soon, so I think it’s worth investing for the long term,” Vollmar said. “We want to continue to push the envelope for what’s possible and continue developing new solutions to help farmers succeed. We really believe there needs to be someone focused on helping farmers grow more efficiently with tech and science.”
Joe Lawler is a freelance reporter based in Des Moines.