2017-01-18 Source: agriculture.com
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 par