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Pilot Mound Entrepreneurs Honoured By BDC

Farmers were so impressed with an innovative crop fertilization service developed by Curtis MacKinnon and Wade Barnes that they urged them to take it to market, giving them the push they needed to strike out on their own.

Since that initial start four years ago, Farmers Edge Precision Consulting has become a fast-growing business that is helping farmers across the Prairies and as far away as Russia improve their practices and profits. For this success, Wade, 34, and Curtis, 33, have won BDC’s Young Entrepreneur Award for Manitoba and were honoured Oct. 20 at a ceremony in Ottawa.

Farmers Edge helps take the guesswork out of farming. It combines remote sensing equipment and technology to redefine how farmers apply fertilizer to their fields to increase crop yields. The business is helping grain and oilseed farmers increase their profits by $15 to $100 per acre, while contributing to a 15 to 25 per cent decrease in fertilizer application.

Now covering 750,000 acres across the Prairies, Farmers Edge has grown to 10 management partners, 34 full-time and 11 seasonal employees, along with 17 consulting partners who are resellers of the services. Farmers Edge has just opened its own soil-testing laboratory, has taken its concept to large corporate farms in Russia and is constantly exploring new ideas.

SPREADING THE WORD

“Before we got started, I was working in the fertilizer business, where research had been done on variable-rate technology, but no one had found a way to make it viable,” said Barnes. “Then I started working with Curtis, who is gifted in technology, and together we decided to reinvent the wheel.”

Barnes hit on the idea of using remote sensing to map out the varying fertilizer needs throughout a field, and MacKinnon found a way to make fertilizer machines vary their output according to that map. When farmers saw what Farmers Edge could do, the service sold itself.

The two agronomy experts attribute the fast growth of Farmers Edge to the talented team and the unique ownership model they have put in place. That includes a design whereby territory managers take equity in the company. “We have been fortunate to find key people who share our drive,” says MacKinnon. “That has allowed us to keep growing and expanding.”

The duo sees expansion as a way of reducing risk. “Agriculture is so influenced by weather that if you are regionalized, one weather disaster could virtually wipe you out,” said Barnes. “Expanding into other regions reduces that risk.” They’re also always on the lookout for possible new ventures. “We’re very quick to seize opportunities. If we have an idea, we chase it.”

That led them to Russia in 2006. Since then, Farmers Edge has been developing business in Russia and Ukraine, tapping into the large corporate farm market.

“Wade and Curtis have brought something new and innovative to the agricultural sector that is making a real difference in Prairie crop yields. Their business smarts and technological savvy have enabled them to grow and expand in a short time,” says BDC president and CEO Jean-René Halde.

“Our services are something that farmers have wanted,” said MacKinnon. “We provide them with a solution that increases their profits. That has resulted in significant and continuous success for us.”

A major feature of Small Business Week, BDC’s Young Entrepreneur Awards recognize the entrepreneurial spirit and the business and leadership accomplishments of Canadians between the ages of 19 and 35. Winners are selected by panels of business people from across the country who consider the originality of the business concept, success, growth potential and social involvement. They also take into account the entrepreneur’s age when the business was started and any special challenges that were overcome.

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