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Ag Leader Technology Celebrates Silver Anniversary
The one thing Lee Kline treasured most as a farm broadcaster was grabbing his tape recorder, driving out to the countryside, and riding in a combine.
“I always felt those interviews in the farmer’s environment were far more genuine because he was in his element,” says the retired WHO farm broadcaster.
During his more than 40-year career, Kline had a front-row seat to the challenges and achievements that shaped rural America including technology that would revolutionize how farmers tracked their grain.
“I had heard about a machine that could record yield on-the-go,” Kline recalls. “In the fall of 1992, I rode in the combine with Dave Granzow, an Iowa farmer who owned one of those machines – Ag Leader’s Yield Monitor 2000.”
As the pair traveled across the field, what started popping up on the screen surprised even Kline. “We were in the cab and all of a sudden this machine registers 135 bushels, then shoots up to 150, and then to 179. Once in a while it might peak to over 200 bushels,” he says. “When we came to a wet spot, it would drop down to 35 bushels and then shoot right back up to 169. To instantly know what the yield is on your corn or soybeans was astounding!”
“Lee couldn’t believe this machine was actually recording on-the-go in real time and what it was capable of measuring,” says Granzow, who farmed with his father-in-law and brother-in-law at the time. “I remember how excited he got as the numbers started coming in.”
It was information that was vital to the multigeneration operation. “The three of us put all of our grain in the same bins,” he says. “We needed to know what came off of the different fields so we could better track how much each one was producing.”
A chance meeting with an ag engineer would provide the solution the farmers were looking for.
“Al Myers had his Yield Monitor 2000 at a combine clinic,” says Granzow. “I was curious and wanted to know whether it was a linear machine that would just spit out numbers or if there was more to it. He opened it up for me and I realized there was definitely something there. We bought the second one he ever sold for $2,200.”
Capturing yield wasn’t the only advantage the Granzows achieved from the device. “The yield monitor helped us streamline how we harvested our crops,” he says. “At the time, we had two combines, a couple of chase carts, and lots of wagons.”
Investing in the monitor allowed them to eliminate the chase carts and cut back to one combine. Less machinery also meant less people were needed in the field. “We were able to go from five to three people during harvest,” Granzow says.
Myers’ invention also changed how farmers viewed their fields.
“Farmers were as surprised as I was at what we were seeing come across that monitor,” he says. “It made us realize that even in a field that looked somewhat uniform how much yield variation there really could be across that field.”
Seed to success
As a start up, Myers’ road from the drawing board to being market-ready began years earlier.
“Working on a shoe-string budget, I built a test stand in 1986 using combine parts I obtained from a scrap yard. It was a pretty crude system, but it worked well enough for me to believe that with some additional development I could make it work,” Myers recalls.
For the next six harvest seasons, he refined his product and tested it on his father’s and a neighbor’s farm in eastern Illinois, as well as one farm in Iowa.
“I still had my full-time job as an engineer so I was doing this on weekends, evenings, and holidays,” recalls Myers. “By 1991, I felt I had the monitor to the point where it could be manufactured and sold. In June 1992, I decided to leave my job and start Ag Leader Technology.”
Working out of his garage, launching a product wouldn’t come without its share of struggles.
“I only sold 10 monitors in 1992. It was tough surviving that first winter, but I hung in there,” he says.
As a one-man show, Myers handled everything from tech support to trade shows.
“There were definitely still a few bugs to work out, but I knew if I didn’t get the glitches resolved right out of the gate, I was not going to be able to build a business on that,” he says. “My name was on the line. I had to make sure I delivered a quality product.”
“Were there frustrations along the way? Absolutely,” says Granzow. “But I knew we had to stick with it. I also knew that if we had a question, Al was out there to answer it.”
A satisfied customer is also a great salesman.
“In December 1992, Al asked me to go with him to his first trade show in Illinois,” recalls Granzow. “He told me he couldn’t afford to pay me, but I was willing to talk about a product I believed in for free.”
“Dave engaged with farmers and did much of the selling with his testimonial,” says Myers. “What better person to tell the story than a satisfied customer.”
By early 1993, Myers recognized he couldn’t continue to go it alone. “I rented a commercial space in Ames, Iowa, and hired some part-time Iowa State University students,” he says.
Within four years of launching Ag Leader Technology his perseverance paid off. Sales of his innovation soared from 10 to 1,500 by the end of 1995.
“I think the Yield Monitor 2000 experienced rapid adoption because farmers who were trying to be good managers and improve crop yields were finding it would show them yield differences they didn’t know existed,” Myers says. “They could then use that information to try to figure out what needed to be fixed in their fields to improve yields.”
2017 marks a silver anniversary
As Ag Leader Technology celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the company has grown to nearly 300 employees and includes not only combine yield monitors but also controls and monitors for application, seeding and planting equipment, as well as GPS receivers, steering systems, and desktop software.
With seven different product lines in place, Myers is already looking to what’s next. He wants to continue to be the leader in displays that provide users the interconnectivity to gather data and the software that analyzes it.
“We have major plans to expand into the IoT so that the information being collected in the cloud can be moved through different devices in the field so a farmer can have the information when and where he needs it,” he says.
Through the years, Myers has held true to his original mission – backing up the products his company sells to farmers.
“A satisfied customer is what it’s all about at the end of the day,” he says. “It’s how you continually improve your product and expand your business.”
The relationship between an ag engineer and a farmer willing to take a chance on technology that also began 25 years ago has evolved into a lasting partnership.
“Dave, and his son, Adam, continue to help us by testing products today,” says Myers.
Staying the course
Still an independently owned company, Myers says he fields inquiries weekly from outsiders either wanting to invest in or to buy his company. Yet, he’s committed to staying the course.
“I didn’t start Ag Leader to make a bunch of money and then sell out. I started the company to do what I love to do – develop new products,” he says. “I hired people who love to do the same thing. I believe that has benefitted not only my employees but also the farmers and the world, in general. I want to see that keep going.”
Although Myers says he’s not a person who likes a lot of attention, it’s difficult not to shine a light on a man who cares deeply not only about agriculture but also about his employees. Under his direction, he is diligently trying to ensure that the next generation of leadership understands how important it is to continue his legacy.
“I have two sons who will own the company after my time,” he says. “I’m working hard to set it up so that when I’m no longer able or around to run the company anymore, Ag Leader will continue to be well run and has the same values we do today.”
You can listen to a podcast with Al Myers by clicking here.