Minnesota-based company looks west
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Three years ago, Todd Golly and Orlando Saez saw opportunity for a Minnesota-based crop monitoring service. Now they see opportunity to expand their company into North Dakota. "Hopefully soon to be in North Dakota if we find ...
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Three years ago, Todd Golly and Orlando Saez saw opportunity for a Minnesota-based crop monitoring service.
Now they see opportunity to expand their company into North Dakota.
"Hopefully soon to be in North Dakota if we find the right partner," says Golly, a Winnebago, Minn., farmer and chief operating officer/founder of the Winnebago-based company.
He and Saez, a self-described "software geek" and CEO/founder of the company, met recently with Agweek in Grand Forks, N.D.
As Goly noted, Grand Forks is home to the University of North Dakota, a world leader in UAVs. It's also an area in which soybeans and sugar beets - two crops for which Aker can provide services - are "huge markets," he says.
Golly has been interested for years in drones and, after buying one himself, began reselling them. That brought him into contact with Saez.
Saez, though familiar with drones, was uncertain if information gathered from them could be of practical value in production agriculture - an area in which Golly was knowledgeable.
"Long story short, I met a farmer and became a partner," Saez says.
Supplying bad news
After developing their business model, they began selling their services in early 2016.
Aker - using its own drones, UAV pilots and software - collects information on problems in growing crops that it sells primarily to agricultural retailers and, suppliers, most of them big, well-known companies, Saez says.
The customers, in turn, use that information to help their farmer-clients apply the best inputs to protect their crops, he says.
"We supply the bad news," which customers use "to make a difference in solving the problem," he says.
Aker does "the collection, the interpretation, the rendering," with the information delivered through a mobile, direct crop scouting app, Saez says.
Some in agriculture are wary of how much useable information drones can provide, at least given current technology.
Saez says that, "In the past, there were a lot of promises with drones, but they didn't deliver. Our system is designed so that from the moment we fly to the moment we deliver, we guarantee results within three days or you don't pay."
Last year, the information was delivered in an average of 1.2 days, he says.
"We're tooling ourselves to be an overnight service," he says.
Like the nurse
Saez uses a health care analogy to describe his company's work.
"We're the nurse, the agronomist is the doctor. The doctor has very few minutes to attend to a patient. He has many patients; agronomists have thousands of acres," he says.
Aker collects information for the busy agronomist, just as the nurse collects information for the doctor, Saez says.
"We take the vitals, they (agronomists) have the prescriptions," Golly says.
Aker has five employees and last year also had 14 UAV pilots on contract on internships during the growing season.
In 2016, Aker flew over 80,000 acres in Minnesota, South Dakota, northern Iowa and Guatemala. It also has a presence, or hopes to establish one, in New Mexico, California's Imperial Valley, Alabama, Oregon and Brazil, among other locations, Golly and Saez say.
North Dakota is high on its list of expansion targets.
Potential partners in the state are crop consultants, ag retailers and "progressive value-added service providers," Saez says.
For more information, visit " target="_blank">aker.ag/.