Canadian Precision Farming Entrepreneurs

Kurt Lawton

Farmers Edge Precision Consulting based in Winnipeg, Manitoba has become a fast-growing business helping farmers cut fertilizer costs and increase profits. The two agronomy experts who started the company just received an entrepreneur award, according to a report in The Gov Monitor.

Farmers were so impressed with an innovative crop fertilization service developed by Curtis MacKinnon and Wade Barnes that they urged them to take it to market, giving them the push they needed to strike out on their own. Since that initial start four years ago, Farmers Edge Precision Consulting has become a fast-growing business that is helping farmers across the Prairies and as far away as Russia improve their practices and profits. For this success, Wade, 34, and Curtis, 33, have won BDC’s Young Entrepreneur Award for Manitoba.

Farmers Edge helps take the guesswork out of farming. It combines remote sensing equipment and technology to redefine how farmers apply fertilizer to their fields to increase crop yields. The business is helping grain and oilseed farmers increase their profits by $15 to $100 per acre, while contributing to a 15 to 25% decrease in fertilizer application. Now covering 750,000 acres across the Prairies, Farmers Edge has grown to 10 management partners, 34 full-time and 11 seasonal employees, along with 17 consulting partners who are re-sellers of the services. Farmers Edge has just opened its own soil-testing laboratory, has taken its concept to large corporate farms in Russia and is constantly exploring new ideas.

“Before we got started, I was working in the fertilizer business, where research had been done on variable rate technology, but no one had found a way to make it viable,” explains Wade. “Then I started working with Curtis, who is gifted in technology, and together we decided to reinvent the wheel.” Wade hit on the idea of using remote sensing to map out the varying fertilizer needs throughout a field, and Curtis found a way to make fertilizer machines vary their output according to that map. When farmers saw what Farmers Edge could do, the service sold itself.

The two agronomy experts attribute the fast growth of Farmers Edge to the talented team and the unique ownership model they have put in place. That includes a design whereby territory managers take equity in the company. “We have been fortunate to find key people who share our drive,” says Curtis. “That has allowed us to keep growing and expanding.”

Curtis and Wade see expansion as a way of reducing risk. “Agriculture is so influenced by weather that if you are regionalized, one weather disaster could virtually wipe you out,” explains Wade. “Expanding into other regions reduces that risk.” They’re also always on the lookout for possible new ventures. “We’re very quick to seize opportunities. If we have an idea, we chase it.” That led them to Russia in 2006. Since then, Farmers Edge has been developing business in Russia and the Ukraine, tapping into the large corporate farm market.

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