By Leanna Sweha
Sunnyvale-based WISRAN helps improve ag machinery and labor utilization efficiency, resulting in a potential 2 to 5 percent boost in revenues.
WISRAN won the 2015 UC Davis Big Bang Competition award for innovation in food and, a Rabobank-MIT Innovation Award in 2017, and recently graduated from the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator program. WISRAN is also on Successful Farming’s list of ag tech startups to watch in 2018.
We recently spoke with WISRAN CEO Arsalan Lodhi.
You’re a software engineer/ MBA and your co-founder Justin Durdan is an Illinois grower. How did you come together to found WISRAN?
I met Justin in 2016 at a Silicon Valley Conference where he spoke on growth and other challenges for farming. I asked him about his plans to further improve profit margins.
His answer seemed to focus on buying the latest and greatest tractors, getting the newest varieties of seeds to maximize yield, and optimizing the use of chemical inputs.
I thought about this and realized that, although I knew very little about farming, I did know from my time as a management consultant the importance of tracking actual utilization of assets and people for time and cost during operation to identify existing process inefficiencies. Why not do the same for agriculture?
Justin invited me to his farm to learn about his operations. We analyzed three seasons of harvesting operation hours to determine his best year for minimum labor and equipment cost and asked what could be done to repeat the results. I learned that although farmers set production goals, they cannot easily track their use of equipment and labor against their own estimates in real time during operation. The result is hidden delays and inefficiencies.
We spent the next six months proving the use of motion and location sensors to automatically identify the time spent on specific activities. We identified activity slack that was invisible and caused operating losses that if made visible in real-time during operation, would allow farmers to save money, control operation schedule by field/acre to cut operating time. This in turn frees up labor and machinery capacity for greater efficiency, resulting in additional revenue.
We shared our results with other farmers and eventually starting product development in 2017.
As a customer, how would I get up and running with your service?
The platform is subscription-based. The service is accessible through a web browser, so no setup and download is necessary for your PC. The service is also available on mobile phones. You’ll purchase an Android tablet and put it in your machine or vehicle. After configuring the system to your fields, equipment and performance targets, the system generates the details. No additional data entry is required because of the built-in intelligence.
When you start your scheduled job, the system will measure real-time performance against your goals. You can make real-time changes based on the analytics of your actual performance versus your target metrics.
You will learn the cost in real-time of wasted, idle, productive and total time at the field level so that you can better manage machinery, labor, gas and logistics.
What makes your service unique?
The central innovation is that we use GPS and accelerometer data to give us details on the status of each activity. The big differentiator is that we not only track what is happening in real time, but then the system translates those activities into aggregate cost data by field, as well as a cost breakdown per field. This way you can clearly see how activities are executed and whether you are hitting your target. All activities statuses are identified with no touch.
Let’s say you have a 30 minute target to complete an activity. We can tell five minutes into the job if you will finish on time. The key is the ability to make real-time adjustments.
Can you give an example of the time and cost savings?
Yes, here’s a great example of how our system brings value. On one farm, we were tracking the time for a seed tender to fill a planter. The system identified some outlier fill times, and after examination, it was determined that the machine needed maintenance. We helped the grower save time and money by triggering machine inspection and maintenance.
In another case, we even had a grower tell us he wants to up his production targets because of the efficiencies our system is bringing!
You’ve said that sometimes it can be challenging to define your firm’s market category – can you explain?
Well, we have created a new service category. Sometimes it is a challenge communicating to customers that we can help improve efficiency using what they already have. Instead of focusing on buying new and improved machinery and inputs, we improve logistics by knowing the cost per field of equipment and labor.
What is your target market and how many customers do you have?
Right now we are working mostly with midwest commodity growers operating at least three thousand acres. We have ten US pilot customers, some paying and some evaluating.
Many other potential customers are lined up. In fact, we recently got a number of leads when I pitched at the Agtech Nexus USA event in Boston.
What about potential California customers?
There are a lot of potential categories.
First, there are ag retailers and custom ag service providers. Their customers are smaller farmers and ranchers. Ag retailers and custom ag service providers want to cover more acres in less time. They use supervisors to track machines and labor, but efficiencies vary widely.
Tree crops are also another area. Contractors who do specific work in orchards would be natural customers.
An additional market segment is feedlot producers. In Australia, they have approached us to track labor, both in the pens and on horseback on the range. I have a letter of support from Mort & Co. in relation to a proposal for government funding for a pilot project.
You are a member of the Woodland-based AgStart incubator – What has that been like?
I first met John Selep (President, AgTech Innovation Alliance, the non-profit sponsor of AgStart) when he was assigned as a mentor at the Ag Innovation Showcase at UC Davis in 2017.
AgStart has been helpful in providing information about the California market, particularly tree crops, and to help me define market strategy for western growers.
Through an AgStart event I met Nicole Tautges and Israel Herrera of UC Davis Russell Ranch. We are planning to work with Russell Ranch to track labor hours and productivity. We look forward to seeing how we can make their operations more efficient, including looking at if our system can help with regulatory compliance activities. We also are grateful for their letter of support on a recent SBIR grant proposal.
With innovators like WISRAN, the future for sustainable agriculture looks bright.
New Innovator Spotlights will appear soon, to feature the innovators and change makers in the sustainable food and ag innovation space. If you know of innovators we should be covering, please email us at email@example.com
About the author: Leanna Sweha is an attorney with an agtech background who has worked for the California Legislature, the California Resources Agency, and the UC Davis Office of Research. She is passionate about promoting new sustainable agriculture companies.