Yearly Archives: 2012

Class project turned app aims to revolutionize crop scouting

Historically, if farmers wanted to check their crops for insects or disease, it was a tedious, inaccurate process. They would carry a couple of guidebooks, hundreds of pages each, to try and identify what they saw, recording observations with handwritten notes and sketches of the field.

After completing a crop scouting internship in rural Iowa, Michael Koenig (left) decided to change that.

“Crop scouting is kind of cumbersome, and just not fun,” Koenig said, “we wanted to make the process a little easier to manage.”

ScoutPro, the website and app Koenig and his team created, is being beta tested this season in seven Midwestern states, including Iowa and Nebraska.

The senior in agriculture education at Iowa State University first pitched the idea as part of an agricultural entrepreneurship class in the fall of 2010. When he won the in-class competition, he was encouraged to keep going.

“Ideas are many, but those who can execute the idea are few,” said Kevin Kimle, director of the agriculture entrepreneurship institute at Iowa State and Koenig’s former professor, praising the students’ determination. “They are on the front edge of innovation on the whole agriculture-GPS sphere.”

Two of Koenig’s competitors in the entrepreneurship class, Holden Nyhus and Stuart McCulloh, would later join his team as vice president of research and development and vice president of sales, respectively, along with a chief creative officer and chief technology officer. Koenig said his team has been putting full-time hours into the project, but working around class schedules and other committments.

Entrepreneur program turns students into businessmen

AMES — Sometimes a dorm room can double as a corporate board room, if you have people with ideas and perhaps just a bit of support.

That is the case for the partners in ScoutPro, a new company that was born in a classroom at Iowa State University and helped by a new agricultural entrepreneurship initiative on campus.

The idea is simple, yet exciting. The students have developed a software application (or “app” to most of us) that can help farmers and crop scouts in identifying corn and soybean weeds and pests in the field.

Instead of lugging a book or a large binder into a field, the founders of ScoutPro hope farmers will be able to carry an electronic notebook (such as an iPad) or smartphone or laptop to the field and use that device to identify problem weeds and record their location.

“It started out as a concept,” says Michael Koenig, one of the new company’s founders. “We were looking for a better way to do crop scouting.”

But, of course, the idea goes back even further. Start with the three founders.

Michael Koenig, 27, grew up on a farm near Pleasantville and he dreamed of returning to the farm but knew there wasn’t enough income there to support a second family. He married, had two children and spent five years as an electrician. But, eventually he decided he wanted to go to college, so he came to ISU and began studying to be an agriculture teacher.

Then he took a required class in entrepreneurship being taught by Kevin Kimle. That economics 334 course included a project where students formed teams and produced feasibility studies on business ideas.

“The three of us all had different ideas,” explains Stuart McCulloh, another partner in the business. “Michael’s idea sounded like the best one to us.”

So, McCulloh, Koenig and Holden Nyhus joined forces and worked on their idea in class. Their instructor, who also heads the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative (AgEI) gave them advice and encouragement. They started out looking at using photo-recognition technology with the idea farmers could use smartphones to take a picture of a weed or pest, then use the app to identify it.

They eventually concluded the technology wasn’t quite in place for that approach, but existing technology would still allow farmers or crop scouts to do a better, faster and easier job of identifying and mapping pest problems.

The three met in living rooms and dorm rooms, discussing classwork and business plans, envisioning how their product would look and work. They eventually brought in two partners. Dan Noe became their graphic designer and Sudheer Kumar Pamuru became the programmer.

The original three founders had farm backgrounds and on-the-ground experience; the newer partners provided needed technical expertise. AgEI provided advice and introduced them to other groups and organizations which could help. The Iowa Soybean Association was supportive and the group’s success in the Pappajohn New Venture Business Competition also helped.

“It really started to move from ‘We could use the money for tuition’ to ‘This could really

work,’ ” Nyhus says.

That transformation is exciting to more than just these three students, says Stacey Noe, program coordinator at AgEI.

“One of our goals is to expose students to entrepreneurs,” she says.

“We want them to get outside the classroom. One thing we’ve learned over the years is that we’ve always done a great job of providing technical training. Graduates have the science and technical knowledge. Now, we’re trying to build on that with a business background.”

That sometimes may lead to students starting a business.

The young founders of ScoutPro are rolling out their product and, if it is successful, they promise more ag apps in the future. Their first product works best on a tablet, but it can be used on a smartphone. More information:

There’s an App For That | Farm Apps for Smartphones Deliver Valuable Information Now

Apps: They’re not just a restaurant food choice. They’re applications; typically small, specialized programs downloaded onto mobile devices. That’s what says. And their popularity grows as two-thirds of Corn & Soybean Digest online polltakers use smartphone apps when farming.

I like to define apps as utilities to make your life easier. Whether your personal or business life, apps have the ability to quickly bring you information. And there are a great number of them to help you on your farming operation.

Let’s start with simple operations, like chemical application and tankmixing. There are a handful of tankmix apps available, all encompassing the same utility of choosing the tank volume, product volume, spray volume, area to cover, etc. TankMix is available for Droid, iPhone and iPad. Yara Tankmix is available for both Droid and iPhone. Tank Mix is also available on the same platforms. All of these are free downloads.

There are also apps to guide nitrogen application. The Corn N Rate Calculator and N Price Calculator, developed by the University of Wisconsin, are available for iPhone and are free to download. Both offer simple utility and are easy to use by inputting a few numbers and selecting a few other options. Other calculators available include Corn Yield Calculator, Corn Planting Calculator and Grain Moisture Calculator. The Yield Calculator is $1.99 and available for both android and iPhone markets. The Planting Calculator is the same price, and is available for iPhone. The Grain Moisture Calculator costs $3.19 and is available for android. Hutchinsons Fieldwise app (free for android and iPhone) includes calculators for seed rates and also tankmix options.

If you’re looking for more all-encompassing management apps, check out Farm Manager for the iPhone. It costs $16.99, and offers the capability to enter crop data, record chemical/fertilizer use, track livestock and track machinery maintenance.

We can’t forget about scouting. Northern Plains Integrate Pest Management has developed a guide to soybean pests. NPIPM Soybean Guide is a free download for android and iPhone and offers photos, descriptions and management for many soybean pests. ScoutDoc ($49.99) is a record-keeping app for the iPad that is designed for farmers to input crop details as well as weed, insect and disease pressure, field by field. Coming soon is ScoutPro for corn and soybeans. It will be available for android and iPhone, as well as iPad and other tablet devices. ScoutPro will allow identification of weeds, insects and diseases, and will create crop-scouting reports.

There are a variety of ag news apps available, as well. From CME Group Mobile (free for android and iPhone) to USDA News Reader (99¢ for iPhone), many ag news apps exist to bring you the latest information.