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Innovation Showcase Winners

While many farmers may not consider themselves inventors, it’s not unusual to see a gadget or two on any given farm that someone has devised to make life a little easier.

For some, the flash of genius that helped resolve a problem or even saved them money never leaves the farm. Their satisfaction comes in knowing they created a solution.

Yet, there are those who decide to take their invention to the next level, but getting an idea from the drawing board to the marketplace can be daunting. Would-be inventors face many obstacles when making an idea become a money-making venture. In fact, commonly quoted statistics will tell you that less than 5% of patented inventions are successful.

According to Paul Niemann, United Inventors Association director of operations, there are two key reasons an invention doesn’t make the grade. “A product isn’t successful because it’s either not the right product at the time, or it wasn’t marketed properly,” he says. “When it comes to marketing, many inventors come up short because inventing and marketing are two totally different skills.”

Guiding ag entrepreneurs
Bridging the gap between the drawing board and the marketplace is the foundation on which Successful Farming magazine’s Innovation Showcase contest was built.

Through the contest, entrepreneurs were encouraged to send in their market-ready ideas. With the assistance of members of Iowa State University’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative, as well as other industry experts, submissions were judged in four areas: originality, marketability and sales potential, ease of manufacture, and safety.

Two finalists were chosen from more than two dozen entries. Both young men, along with their inventions, will be showcased at the 20th Annual Commodity Classic in Phoenix, Arizona, from February 26-28, 2015.

Both finalists will each receive a one-day consultation with Thunder Creek Equipment.

Chem-blade ES

Ethan Eck knew he was destined to invent and improve products.

“I realize less than 5% of patented inventions make it to market,” Eck says, “but I feel I’ve focused on something that really will make a difference in chemical application, which I experienced firsthand in my brother’s custom spraying operation.”

As the next generation in his family’s Kingman, Kansas, farming operation, Eck created the Chem-Blade ES, which eliminates a bottleneck in today’s chemical-loading process.

“There have been advancements with bulk containers and direct injection, but loading chemicals from jugs and bags will always remain a very important part of chemical application,” he explains. “I wanted to load faster while not getting chemicals all over. My first design was to open a chemical jug and empty it quicker while having rotary or directed sprayers immediately rinsing the entire jug. Those same sprayers are then used to rinse and clean the tank.”

After his initial patent, he was introduced to the developers of the Bi-Rotor combine. Their guidance helped him think outside the box.

“I explored and patented many different ways of opening chemical jugs,” Eck explains. “Having ramps to slide inserted containers down into an inductor/eductor was developed to make the job much easier for the operator.”

In testing his idea, he was pleased to find that he could not only drain jugs quickly but also empty bags extremely fast, which can be quite a chore. He also conducted surveys across the country asking farmers about their chemical-loading needs. The results helped him determine that the system needed to be totally enclosed.

“The operator opens the lid and slides in a jug or bag. The lid closes and seals the chamber. With either powered means or by using a manual lever, a cutting apparatus opens the container to empty the contents in a half second. Water automatically turns on, rinsing the container clean while washing the residual chemical into the solution tank,” he notes.

This invention was originally developed to get the spray rig back in the field quicker and to make loading easier for the operator. Besides chemical cost savings, he says an indirect benefit is having no possibility of gurgling or backsplash, spilling, wind blowing chemical, or exposure to fumes.

“Using Chem-Blade ES, the operator can spray up to 45-plus additional acres a day with the time saved loading. Efficiency today is what it’s all about,” he says.

The invention has also been designed for a supply trailer and hot mixes from the shop.

“This is a definite solver of the safety issues concerning chemical handling,” says Stacey Noe, Iowa State University Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative program coordinator.

Keep-in hitch pin
Growing up on his family’s farm west of Randall, Minnesota, the shop became the place where Justin Kelzer fit in.

“Since my brother was the oldest, he was the first to learn how to drive a tractor, and it became his job,” says Kelzer. “My sister was always into taking care of the cattle. As the years went by, I began to feel out of place on the farm. I was spending more and more time in the shop. Unless we were doing fieldwork or when I had other chores to do, that’s where I could be found.”

Kelzer admits he has always been fascinated by anything mechanical. The more complicated, the better.

“I had to figure out how things worked inside, which probably got me in trouble,” he jokes. “When we went to an auction, everyone else was there for livestock, but I wanted to look at the machinery. Once I got to high school, I realized what my calling in life was when I took a machine shop class.”

It was about this time when he started thinking about making the Keep-In hitch pin.

“I never witnessed the actual event, but to see the aftermath of a hitch pin popping out was enough to make me want to find a solution to fix the problem,” Kelzer explains. “The first time it happened was one winter when my dad was spreading manure. Driving over the rough snow made the pin come out. Before he could stop the tractor, the spreader was dragged by the hydraulic hoses, which bent the mounting plate on the tractor for the hydraulic lines.”

In another incident, his dad was cutting hay and had to drive over gopher mounds, which caused the pin to pop out once again. This time, there was significant damage to the tractor.

“The next time it might happen to somebody driving down the road either with a tractor or a truck,” Kelzer warns. “Whether pulling implements in the field or on the road, this pin would make farming safer because there’s no need to worry about it popping out.”

His Keep-In hitch pin is 1 inch in diameter and 7¾ inches in length, but it could be different sizes.

“The main feature is a key in the end, which retracts when the handle is squeezed,” he explains. “An 1∕8-inch-diameter hole through the shaft allows a cable to pull a spring-loaded plunger inside of the shaft. To use, simply squeeze the handle when hitching up to insert the pin or when unhitching.”

“It’s an interesting design,” says Noe. “How come I never thought of that! This idea has a high market potential beyond just the ag sector.”

Nothing would make Kelzer happier than to see the hitch pin being used by farmers and knowing that he helped prevent a potential tragedy. He hopes equipment companies get on board and include the Keep-In hitch pin with each new implement sold.

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