DES MOINES — Four companies competed for money to help their business grow Jan. 29 at the Iowa Power Farming Show here.
The third-annual Ag Tech Innovation Competition featured agriculture startup companies putting their ideas on display for visitors to the convention, as they looked to solve problems found in the agriculture community.
When the pitches were finished, a hog-focused business, Sentinel, came away with the $20,000 grand prize.
Sentinel’s goal is to change the way swine producers are able to monitor the performance and well-being of their animals with artificial intelligence and computer-vision technology, according to Sentinel CEO BJ Brugman.
“Sentinel is eliminating one of the more menial tasks faced by competitive pork producers today, relating to inventory management,” he said.
Brugman said the technology will reduce the time needed to count pigs, saying that nearly 40% of service managers’ time is now taken up by this task. By using the technology, that time can be reduced, and by taking data input out of a person’s hands, it will reduce human error on inventories as well.
“The modern internet began in 1983, six years before I was born,” Brugman said. “The U.S. swine industry is still not connected to it. Part of that is there hasn’t been a compelling value proposition to get that done, and I think Sentinel is the technology that will allow us to bridge that gap.”
He said the technology creates a “smart barn” equipped with sensors and cameras that will transmit information directly to the managers.
Another company in the competition, AgButler, also came away with a prize, earning $5,000 for their business as the People’s Choice winner, voted on by attendees at the event.
AgButler is an application that allows farmers to find agriculture labor in their area on demand, helping connect the workforce and employers who need extra help throughout the year. The company, helmed by Kevin Johansen, operates for a “gig-based” economy for workers who are paid by the job as opposed to having a constant hourly wage.
“We have equipment that drives itself and we know the performance data of our calf crops before they even hit the ground,” he said. “We have smartphones. Why don’t we use them to help us find labor?”
Johansen said while the app will help producers find workers quickly, the business also hopes it helps part-time laborers make more connections with farmers and ranchers in their areas, so they can find stable employment.
The two companies who gave pitches but did not receive prizes were:
- FeedX: A tool that would make it easier for farmers and feed mills to buy, sell and make decisions together.
- Mercaris: A data analytics company and online trading platform that focuses mainly on organic and non-GMO grains, oilseeds and dairy commodities.