Colorado entrepreneur gives Christmas gift to farmers around the world
MASONVILLE, Colo. — This time of year many farmers wrestle with the decision of how many acres of each crop to plant – the most fundamental decision in the most fundamental industry. For many farmers every year it's literally "bet the farm." It's a complex decision with lots of variables and dependencies.
To assist farmers, Planting Profits, a Colorado "ag-tech" start-up, is introducing a new and powerful on-line crop planning tool. The Company will make its tool available to farmers for free early next year.
For Gary Schneider, founder and president, it's been a lifelong journey down a winding road filled with mild successes, detours and disappointments, fueled by persistence and boundless optimism.
The arc of Mr. Schneider's life work springs from a boy walking the fields with his Grandad asking questions about farming. Years down the road at the University of Arizona in an applied math class, Schneider's inquisitiveness led to a breakthrough, one of those "ah ha" moments of inspiration.
Inspiration was followed by perspiration – "all nighters" developing optimization algorithms and business plans while at MIT. As an engineer and entrepreneur, Mr. Schneider moved his invention from conception to application to commercialization. He raised a little start-up capital, cashed out his IRA and in 1997 his planning tool launched as a shrink-wrapped piece of desktop software. Back then software distribution was via FedEx. He sold about 100 copies in the two months.
It was immediately recognized as one of the most important innovations in agriculture by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. But in reaching for his dreams Schneider had mortgaged his house and his career and it was still a steep climb with lots of risk. He had reached a fork in the road.
Unsure of whether he was on the threshold of success or failure, he sold out to a large ag company, buying their promise to take his desktop software to the web and to the World. Schneider saw this as the surest way to get his life's work into the hands of as many farmers, and do as much good, as quickly as possible.
But his dream hit the skids and ran into the ditch. His invention got parked in the corporate labyrinth then lost. "I made a little bit of money, but in terms of dreams fulfilled, it was a bad decision – a complete crash and burn," says Schneider.
Mr. Schneider laments, "Although it's impossible to prove, over the past 20 years that this tool was not available, I believe that collectively, U.S. farmers have lost tens of billions of dollars in unrealized income and unnecessary risk exposure. It is that powerful."
In the midst of a successful career managing large systems deployments, Mr. Schneider did some research and decided to rebuild the software into a web application on his own dime and give it away to farmers. For almost two years Schneider, his partner and a small team of developers have been busy. Now the software is in the final stages of testing, and will be released within the next couple of weeks.
"For many farmers it will change the way they plan. This tool can save valuable time in planning and help farmers make more money while better managing production and market risks.
The software does this by using advanced mathematical algorithms to unscramble key planning variables and dependencies. It quickly analyzes all crop/field/acreage combinations and pinpoints the one that maximizes profitability.
For example, a farm that has seven fields and several crops under consideration could have tens of thousands of crop/field combinations even allowing for rotations and some other restrictions. There's simply no way anyone is going to figure out the most profitable combination of crops/field/acres without using these techniques.
Big companies learned this fifty years ago." Schneider continues, "My goal has always been to take these very powerful applied mathematics capabilities down to the farm."
Schneider says the only data needed to run his software are price and yield forecasts, production costs and some basic field information. The rest are what Schneider calls "management decision levers." That is, decisions under a farmer's control.
The software does not upend what the farmer is planning to plant. Rather it suggests changes at the margins, but the results can easily be a 10 - 20% boost in profitability after only about an hour of use. It can also show farmers ways to use the least amount of working capital or water or any other critical input.
Schneider has big plans for product enhancements.
"The current version of our software is really for farmers who have several choices in their crop mix and some flexibility in their rotations. But we are working on next gen version that will focus more on risk management to assist farmers who only have a couple of crop choices and whose focus may be more on risk management. We also are looking for partners who can help with translations and country-specific adaptations."
Schneider says that for farmers who would like to benefit from the software but want someone to work with, the Company is setting up an Internet consulting service. Farmers will be able to go to the Company's website and schedule an appointment and receive assistance on-line.
The Company will also begin training ag retailers, agronomists, crop insurance agents and marketing advisors to use the tool to help their farmer clients. Schneider notes, "Once a grower decides how many acres of each crop to plant, many purchasing decisions and selling decisions follow. So providing a production planning service complements these guys' core business, keeps it local, and leverages their relationships with farmers."
Schneider says of the Company's business model, "Through their efforts, farmers support countless businesses. Our software supports farmers. So we are hoping to find national, regional and local sponsors who will help us keep the software free for farmers in the U.S. and around the world." The website also has a spot to take donations from users.
Schneider wraps his gift with this bow, "I want my legacy to be helping farmers and furthering agriculture. Farmers and agriculture still underpin our economy. Farmers, like my Grandad, are our unsung heroes. Merry Christmas!"
A quick demo of Planting Profits is available at www.plantingprofits.com.
For more information contact Gary Schneider @ 970-420-1656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.