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Start-Up Spotlight: U.S. Design Consultants

Start-up business U.S. Design Consultants wants to speed up the process of broadcast dispensing seed, as well as make it more accurate. President and CEO Norm Robbins is using his background in design and engineering, as well as his interest in helicopters, to save farmers time and money.

“Our seeding system dispenses any granular product evenly, economically, and effectively,” says Robbins. “The amount of ground we are able to cover in a short amount of time makes it very cost-effective.”

Robbins moved from Michigan in 2009 to take flight lessons at Iowa Helicopter and is now the owner. It was during his time in flight school that he began working on a better way to dispense seed.

“I met an ag consultant in flight training who was frustrated with the way his cover crops were performing,” says Robbins. “He asked me to come up with something that would be more effective.”

How it works
The U.S. Design Consultants seeding system does very little damage to the grain and is accurate in its placement. According to Robbins, his system can cover much more ground in a day than a tractor can, which is why it is so economically friendly. 

Seeds are traditionally broadcast through an airplane or a tractor. Airplanes rely on air speed, making it difficult sometimes to dispense small seed evenly. While tractors may be more accurate than airplanes, they are much slower and present issues with soil compaction and muddy fields.

What sets these helicopters apart from airplanes are the navigation and dispensing systems. U.S. Design Consultants developed a closed system that does not rely on air speed when dispensing seed.

“The accuracy comes from the navigation/guidance system that we use,” says Robbins. “The evenness of the distribution is the result of months of study, development, and testing, which has resulted in a very efficient and easy-to-use system that has a very uniform distribution pattern.”

The company is currently testing its system from the ground and hopes it will be in service later this year – after receiving aerial certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. The company needs this certification to operate an agricultural aircraft. Once operating, the helicopter will fly 60 to 80 feet in the air, which is similar to airplanes.

For farmers skeptical of having their seed dispensed at this height, U.S. Design Consultants is able to retrofit the system to a tractor for ground application. 

“We can change the configuration to be used from a tractor,” says Robbins. “It would still be much more effective than what is out there now.”

The system can also be reconfigured to be installed on other aircraft, and the company is investigating the possibility of a heavy-lift drone application. The cost of application will be very similar to that of airplanes or other helicopter-application services.

U.S. Design Consultants is one of the five participants in the 2018 Iowa AgriTech Accelerator. It is using this opportunity to modify its business plan to manufacture and supply equipment. Participants in this program spend 100 days in Des Moines, Iowa, working with mentors in the agritech industry. They also receive $40,000 in funding from the program’s sponsors in exchange for 6% in their business.

About the Company
Company: U.S. Design Consultants
Founder: Norm Robbins
Headquarters: Woodburn, Iowa
Background: U.S. Design Consultants has developed a seeding system that works from a helicopter, making it faster and more accurate than traditional methods of broadcasting cover crop seeds. 

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