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North Bend-based CropMetrics optimizes irrigation with sensors, science, and service

CropMetrics is giving growers greater insights in their irrigation practices with its precision irrigation management software platform and service offering.

Unpredictability is an enduring facet of agriculture; from wind and rain to sun and soil, farmers must be masters at managing the countless variable conditions that affect their business. CropMetrics is innovating a technology solution that reduces the guesswork and helps growers optimize one of those most important variables – water.

Nick Emanuel grew up in the small farming community of North Bend, Nebraska, roughly an hour or so west of Omaha. He left the family farm to attend the University of Nebraska – Lincoln where he studied agronomy and earned a graduate degree in geography with an emphasis in remote sensing and agronomy during the nascent years of precision ag.

He accepted an offer from John Deere in Des Moines, Iowa, where he worked on developing precision ag applications following his graduation. He was heavily involved in John Deere’s R&D in agronomics and field applications, working on software design and implementation. Though busy building out new technology, he felt the familiar tug of the family farm, and after three years at John Deere he packed up and headed back to North Bend.

Nick discovered while working for John Deere that growers around the country were increasingly adopting technology – though mostly in hardware. He found these growers were not leveraging data and analytics, nor were they sure how to do so. After many requests and anecdotal evidence from these farmers, Nick started an independent consulting business for precision ag data applications.

“I consulted for a few years, and the more the business grew, the more I found the ag industry lacking tools and software technologies needed to optimize production. I started developing my own software applications for my consulting practice. One of the first I built was a variable rate application for irrigation, and with that I founded CropMetrics in 2009.”

CropMetrics is a developer of precision irrigation management technology. One component of the company’s cloud-based software application utilizes soil moisture probes with sensors that measure soil moisture every four inches down to three or four feet. The sensors upload data every 30 minutes, giving farmers near real-time information about conditions in the field, helping them optimize their irrigating decisions.

As a farmer himself, Nick understands that the number-one goal for farmers when balancing cost of inputs with commodity prices is to improve yields for maximum profitability.

“It’s a double win that we can help farmers cut energy costs and reduce water consumption at the same time, resulting in improved yield.”

CropMetrics App

Farmers can make anywhere from three to 20 pivot rotations per growing season depending on rainfall and other environmental factors – though 10 rotations are about average, according to Nick.

The CropMetrics application saves, on average, three pivot rotations, saving farmers an estimated $3,000 per growing season.  Nick also cites improved water conservation and yield improvements of 10-15%, on average, as additional benefits of the CropMetrics technology.

The mindset of efficiency and optimization are at the core of CropMetrics’ business model.

“CropMetrics has kept its niche focus on precision irrigation in a rapidly broadening ag tech sector,” said Nick. “Our narrow focus allows us to refine both elements of our business – software and service.  Our software has integrated technology solutions, such as sensors in the field combined with data science modeling to better predict and measure parameters such as soil moisture. Our complete solution includes a full-service component with a locally trained expert. We have a nationwide network of independent dealers for distribution and service.”

The company has dealers and customers nationwide – from the Pacific Northwest to the east coast, down to Texas and South America – with plans for more future global expansion.

Nick cites the company’s attentive approach to its customer support as a factor in a 95% retention rate for over five years.

“We’re not just passing off a new tool and letting farmers figure out how to use it. We’re with them through installation and integration into their own operations.”

The CropMetrics team, 15 full-time plus several contracted and rapidly growing, is a collection of experienced technology experts and agriculturists. The company recently hired data scientist John Gates as its Chief Science Officer, and also brought on CEO Lee Addams last year, allowing Nick to transition to Chief Technology Officer and devote more attention to advancing the company’s technology.

The company received a patent last December and will commence beta testing on its autonomous pivot prototype. The autonomous pivot is designed to automatically change its application rates on-the-go based on changing crop, soil, and climate factors. The application can be retrofitted on any brand or age of pivot. CropMetrics plans its autonomous pivot commercial release in 2020. Check back for news as the company rolls out its new technology.

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