After working in the agriculture industry fresh out of school, Wade Barnes, president and CEO of Farmers Edge recalls his “ah ha” moment where he saw the prospect in precision agronomy. “I started my agronomic career at a cooperative in northwest Manitoba,” he shares. “Within the cooperative was a group of farmers starting a precision agronomy committee and they asked me to join. The goal of the committee was to build a GPS tower to monitor efficiencies, which is really the foundation of precision agronomy.”
At first variable rate technology (VRT) was used for steering and guidance of farming equipment, but Wade noticed the industry progressing, making a shift toward agronomic efficiency. While VRT had been around for nearly a decade, the technology was not widely used because it had yet to be proven as a viable solution.
Venturing Over the Edge
“About seven years after my involvement with the cooperative, I was with another company in North Dakota in the sugar beet fields,” he recounts. “We used satellite imagery to locate areas of high nitrogen in the field which affect the sugar content of the crop. In a meeting one day it dawned on me that VRT could be used to identify the overall health of the crop.” Seeing the value in VRT, Wade set out to prove it to the rest of the industry.
Wade and his business partner, Curtis MacKinnon decided to test their idea with about half-a-dozen farms. “We eventually saw fertilizer use go down and crop yields go up,” he shares. “As our program grew, word spread and more and more farmers got involved because word-of-mouth is the best advertising in this business.”
Wade and Curtis officially established Farmers Edge in 2005 with the drive, vision and chemistry needed to take the chance. The Manitoba-based company has grown rapidly since. “Farmers Edge started out as Curtis and I working in my basement, just 10 farms and 20,000 acres, to now with 100 million acres of precision agronomy fields,” reveals Wade.
Today, the company calls Winnipeg home, but has operations across Canada, the U.S., Eastern Europe, South America and Russia. “In Canada, Russia and South American we’re working directly with farmers, but they’re typically large-scale farms,” notes Wade. “In the U.S., we’re dealing with fertilizer companies and large firms that work for local farmers.”
“We’re very active in Eastern Europe and Russia with 100 employees worldwide and we’ve worked to establish global partnerships with large multinational groups such as Viterra,” continues Wade. “We’re also engaged with multinational technology companies that want to offer more than just hardware or software, but a complete package.”
Aiming for Sustainability
When Wade refers to a more complete package he means advanced agronomic solutions that drive profitability through tools that identify and map field variability, optimize crop inputs, produce higher yields, better quality and actually lessen the impact on the environment. “Not only are we helping farmers be 25 to 30 percent more efficient, we’re helping them become more sustainable which is where the big food companies are looking to go,” he explains.
Farmers Edge has partnered with big players such as Wal-Mart, assisting in managing supply chains and traceability. “Wal-Mart has advocated for sourcing sustainably grown grain and other products and they’re also getting suppliers such as Pepsi Co. and General Mills to follow the same practices,” shares Wade. “They want to have increased traceability on products, from the big-box supplier right to the farm.”
The company is also bridging the gap between food industry stakeholders through a recent global licensing agreement with Topcon Precision Agriculture (TPA) and SGIS software. In July 2013, Farmers Edge joined TPA to integrate SGIS, an agronomic desktop software, into the company’s web-based precision farm management platform called Precision Edge.
Precision Edge enables food companies, input retailers, agronomists and farms to easily manage field centric data, VRT, remote sensing, crop surveillance and other field information via one program. “The integration of SGIS into Precision Edge will allow Farmers Edge to better service our clients by adding several important components such as yield analysis and a more robust layering tool for farm data,” says Wade. “We believe this agreement will allow Precision Edge to become one of the leading precision agriculture tools in the market.”
“Our current goal is to double in Canada and get more and more of the food industry giants to use our system,” adds Wade. As a “farm kid” who got into the agronomic business right away, he’s set his sights on furthering his broad knowledge, continuing to grow Farmers Edge into the number one farm management and precision agronomy group in the world.