Against the Grain: Tech Startup Agrimatics Aims to Shake Up Ag Industry with Mobile Harvest Data-Management Tools
Like all business sectors, agriculture is being disrupted and improved with new technologies. In this era of GPS, Internet of Things, big data and precision farming—where everything gets measured, recorded, reported and tracked—farmers are becoming more efficient, doing more with fewer inputs in less time than ever before.
One Canadian tech company, located within the country’s Grain Belt, has set its sights on disrupting agriculture, starting with grain cart weighing and data management. But that’s just the beginning for Agrimatics and parent company Bitstrata Solutions, based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“With the emphasis on precision farming, today’s farmer benefits from accurately measuring the harvest operation,” says Ian Meier, Agrimatics’ co-founder and CEO, who grew up on a grain farm in Canada. “Our technology makes that process easy, reliable and accessible for our customers. It never gets old hearing how our products are making a difference in farmers’ daily lives.”
Libra Cart, the cornerstone of the Agrimatics product line, is a cloud-based tool that essentially helps farmers “know what they’ve got— automatically.” Comprising a small electronics box that mounts to a grain cart and a free mobile iOS and Android app, Libra Cart collects, stores and sends weigh-scale data from the cart wirelessly to an operator’s smartphone or tablet. Together, the battery-operated hardware and app turn a mobile device into a full-featured grain cart display and data-management system.
The patent-pending technology enables remote operators to see the grain cart weight and calibrate the yield monitor from their smartphone or tablet within a range of 400 feet. The system automatically collects and stores data when the grain cart is unloaded, without needing an additional sensor.
Goal #1: Simplicity
“Our customers tell us that, despite being very busy people, Libra Cart keeps things simple for them in the field,” Meier says. “It effortlessly keeps them in touch with their operation and inventory. The automatic, reliable load-recording, data backup and data sharing gives them confidence in their farming records.”
Libra Cart simplifies harvest record keeping, automatically recording the weight, time, date and location (among other data) of every cartload, allowing the operator to focus on harvesting and providing owners and managers with accurate data at their fingertips. The Libra Cart hardware connects directly to the cart’s scales, eliminating the cab clutter of traditional indicators, printers, USB sticks, receipts and logbooks.
“The Libra Cart replaces the traditional scale indicator of a grain cart scale system—typically a hulking, monolithic electronics box in the tractor cab—with an iPad or Android tablet,” Meier says.
The system integrates seamlessly with the optional Agrimatics Aero cloud service for convenient data sharing and archiving, and can even export data in a spreadsheet-friendly format for those who prefer paper records.
“Our mission is to make precision farming technology easy to use,” says Michael Lockerbie, Agrimatics’ president and co-founder. “We see a vast opportunity here, but the difficulty of putting new technology into practice can sometimes be an obstacle. By simplifying the user experience, we believe the adoption rate of Libra Cart will accelerate along with other precision farming technologies.”
Because Libra Cart is based on popular mobile devices, it’s more familiar and easier to use than conventional systems, which can be more difficult to set up, operate and retrieve data from—if they collect data at all. Libra Cart provides remote viewing of grain weights via mobile devices and optionally connects to Aero, so team members stay informed and have access to the same records, whether they’re in a combine, truck or the office.
Installation, Pricing and Availability
Grain carts with scales can be upgraded to Libra Cart quickly and easily. The device is mounted to the front of the cart and, because it communicates wirelessly with the operator’s tablet in the cab, no cables are needed across the hitch, simplifying installation and hitch management. The low-maintenance unit simply requires a battery that should be replaced before each harvest season. Older carts can be retrofitted with scales purchased through the cart dealer or from companies specializing in aftermarket weighing systems, such as Central City Scale in Nebraska.
Libra Cart is priced at $1,900 USD for the electronics, while the app can be downloaded for free from the iOS App Store and Google Play for Android and installed on a tablet or smartphone. The Libra Cart app is compatible with all iPads (starting with the third generation), all iPhones (starting with 4S), and select Android devices running versions 4.3 or newer with Bluetooth Smart support.
Libra Cart is sold across North America, with hundreds of dealer locations throughout the Grain Belt. It’s also available as a factory option on J&M, Elmer’s and Demco carts under the Agrimatics, iFarm and other brand names.
In the Cloud: Agrimatics Aero Service
Libra Cart also can be connected to the company’s cloud-based service, Aero. Aero helps protect the data with automatic data backup, simplifies work flow in the field through real-time data sharing across multiple mobile devices, and provides desktop viewing, editing and management of harvest data.
Aero is available in two versions, Basic (free) and Pro ($99 per year /mobile device). Aero Basic allows users to:
• Automatically back up data to the cloud (with an Internet connection).
• Recover data in the case of a lost or damaged mobile device
• View data from the Aero desktop web application
Aero Pro includes all Aero Basic features in addition to allowing:
• Instant syncing of data across all mobile devices (with an Internet connection)
• Combine operators or truckers to choose the truck destination
• Managers to create or edit fields, trucks, destinations, etc.
• Merging data from multiple grain carts running Libra Cart
• Real-time viewing of yields and totals
• Advanced report generation
• Viewing, editing and managing data from mobile devices and the Aero desktop web application
Creating ‘Modern Solutions to Industrial Problems’
Agrimatics was founded in 2012 by Meier and Lockerbie. Previously, both had careers developing technology products primarily for the agriculture, telecommunications and military sectors.
“We formed Bitstrata Solutions [Agrimatics’ parent company] to build a platform of electronics, mobile apps and cloud-based software that would simplify the creation of modern solutions to industrial problems,” Meier says.
In their previous careers developing technology products, one area that both found frustrating was creating rudimentary LCD displays and keyboards—think Speak & Spells—for each product, emphasizing function over form and ease of use.
“With each project, a significant amount of development effort would be focused on displays and keyboards, and it felt like we were always reinventing the same wheel,” Lockerbie says.
Then came Apple’s iPhone, which changed everything.
With the advent of the iPhone in 2007, we saw the potential to blend this new beautiful, powerful and simple user experience with the real-world industrial applications for which we’d become experts in creating solutions,” Lockerbie says. “It wasn’t until the 2011 release of the iPhone 4S that we’d found a mobile technology that was up to the job.”
For its initial market entry, the company chose to focus on agriculture, specifically grain cart weighing. Within eight months, it launched Libra Cart as the first product in its Agrimatics agricultural brand.
“Agrimatics worked very closely with farmers that first year,” Meier says. “We used their valuable feedback to improve the product. Also, our staff’s own farm experience has given us understanding about what works and what doesn’t.”
Early Adopters: J&M Mfg.
Before Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina, Saskatchewan, in 2013, Agrimatics cold-called grain-handling equipment manufacturer J&M Mfg., leaving a message about a potential partnership. Ohio-based J&M eagerly returned the call within a half hour, and the iFarm solution was born. iFarm offers the exact same functionality as Libra Cart but is branded for J&M equipment.
“What really interested me about this system is that it is leading-edge technology that is simple to use and works,” says Joe Knapke, J&M’s service manager. “In troubleshooting scale systems on a regular basis, common-sense simplicity goes a long way. We also like that it can be retrofitted to almost any scale system we have out there as long as it has a junction box on it.”
Agrimatics’ Meier states, “We immediately saw a synergy between J&M’s streamlined implement designs and the user experience of our Agrimatics products. J&M’s customers appreciate the ease of use and connectivity of our mobile device-based solutions that will continue to change the industry.”
Since then, Agrimatics has partnered with other manufacturers and is always considering new business relationships.
The Future: Cattle, Dairy and Beyond
In the future, Agrimatics plans to expand its grain production and handling product line and ultimately bring its technology expertise into other markets besides agriculture.
In the coming months, it will release Libra TMR for the beef and dairy industries. The system, built on the same platform as Libra Cart, is a complete feeding- and ration-management system that is just as simple, powerful and enjoyable to use.
“We’re excited to begin building this brand and will benefit from the credibility and brand awareness we’ve achieved with our Agrimatics line,” Lockerbie says. “Despite the economic downturn in ag, our sales have continued to grow because producers are seeking simple and reliable precision-farming technologies. When times are tough, producers must get more from their equipment investments. Even if large purchases are delayed, simple precision farming upgrades like Libra Cart make sense now.”
For more information on the Agrimatics product line, please visit libracart.com.