Al Myers of Ag Leader Technologies
Interviewed by Kevin Kimle - Excerpts
The right product at the right time
Kimle: Ag Leader’s first product was a yield monitor. Tell us why it was a success.
Myers: For the first five or six years of the business our only product was the yield monitor. One thing that was very fortunate to me is that, not only had I developed a product that worked well, but it was the right product at the right time. That can be a key factor of success for a startup. The time was right for a yield monitor for a couple different reasons. First, it was the right idea to capture the interest of farmers. It was the earliest precision agriculture hardware product that gained widespread acceptance. Steering came along later.
Kimle: So why do you think that widespread adoption of yield monitors happened?
Myers: Yield is the farmer’s paycheck, so they naturally pay a lot of attention to it. Historically, farmers would use average yields of plots to choose their hybrids for the next year. After yield monitors were adopted, everybody found that there was more yield variation going across the field than expected. In the beginning it was not uncommon in some years see two-to-one, or even more yield variation. Often, you can't see that yield variability visually from the combine cab, but the yield monitor shows it.
Opportunities for agtech
Kimle: What are the most compelling opportunities for agricultural technologies going forward?
Myers: Certainly there's an explosion of information technologies. With the Internet and with all the data that is being gathered there are significant opportunities. I see big opportunities for those businesses that make information more available or more importantly, more usable, whether that's the crop farmer or the livestock farmer. The ability to make decisions using data in agriculture needs to get better. There are tons and tons of data, but very little is done with it. I think that's where some of the businesses who do the right things, creating useful information that the farmer can act on, have an opportunity. Another opportunity both in the hardware and the data area is making the technology easier to use.
Kimle: You were one of the first investors in the Ag Startup Engine. Can you tell us why you made the decision to be a part of the program?
Myers: There are a couple of reasons. One, I thought it would be interesting to be "in the know" on what's going on with the effort to create more startups here associated with Ames and Iowa State University. Second, I thought it might be good to have an inside line of what startups are doing so that I'd have an early indication if there is one of these companies in which Ag Leader may want to have a relationship.