14 Sep High-Tech Solution for Farmers
Good old fashioned problem-solving is alive in Wisconsin today. Five years ago Chad Sorenson was talking with his cousin in Iowa, a farmer who grows corn. The cousin complained about the tedious task of applying anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer, and specifically how he had to stop his tractor and walk 40 feet behind him to determine how much fertilizer was left in the tank. The seed was planted.
Simple problem, high-tech solution
Just as Sorenson was graduating with a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering, he began working on concepts and prototypes to solve this problem. He then entered business school, earning his MBA at UW-Madison, but founded Fluent Systems, LLC in December 2001, six months before he graduated. The company’s office is on Madison’s east side.
In June 2002, Executive Vice President Jauma Villaneuva joined the company, and they also recently hired Chad’s sister, Krista Sorenson, as marketing director. The three-person company has since come a long way from a simple idea—they now have a product they are selling to farmers: the Fluent NH3 Monitor. Billed “the only wireless information feedback system for the application of anhydrous ammonia,” the monitor consists of two pieces, the tank unit and the cab unit. The tank unit, which is clamped onto the nurse tank, sends fluid level data to the cab unit. Data transmitted also includes average application rate per acre and time remaining until the tank is empty.
Startup aches and pains
While some might have antiquated ideas about the agriculture industry, Sorenson said farmers use technology every day. “I know quite a few who farm with a laptop computer on their tractor,” he said.
However, they are not a gadgety group. “They will adopt a technology if there’s a direct benefit,” Sorenson said. “They won’t just go out and buy the new thing because it’s new. They have to see a tangible benefit.”
For that reason, Sorenson said it takes “soak time” for products within the agricultural market to catch on, mostly by word of mouth. He also said it’s a challenge to sell such a seasonal product; farmers usually apply anhydrous ammonia one of three times during the year, either in the spring or when the crop comes up or before the snow hits. Timing is everything for this market, he said.
However, it’s a mistake to assume that what farmers in Iowa do will be the same for those in Wisconsin, he said. While some may apply it before planting, others do it when the crop first comes up. The data even differs between regional areas within a state. “We are finding it more effective to do our target marketing on a county by county basis,” Sorenson said.
The company decided to produce a prototype before going to mass production, and Sorenson said he learned to “walk before you run.” “There’s tremendous value in doing something on a pilot basis,” he said. “We made significant changes to the product before mass producing it based on the feedback we got.”
Fluent Systems, LLC is the original equipment manufacturer for the NH3 Monitor, Sorenson said, and it’s manufactured in Whitewater, Wisconsin.
Jennifer Braico is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.