The light bulb went off in 2013 for Jeff Wagenknect. Agriculture needed an Uber for aerial applications.
“As pockets of pest pressures are popping up, there is more and more demand for application services with tighter time windows,” Wagenknecht says. “When I sold aerial services, a lot of my work came from emergency situations when there just weren’t enough applicators.”
To connect demand with supply, Wagenknect created AgriFly Network, an app designed as a platform to post and accept aerial applications jobs.
Farmers, ag retailers and crop consultants log onto the platform, post a pin near the site, and then give the details for the job (crop, product, time window). Then aerial applicators, log in to browse the jobs requests, submit bids to those they are interested in, and will be contacted via the app if chosen. No identifying information or contact information is shared until the job is accepted.
There is no fee to download the app for farmers, ag retailers and crop experts, and AgriFly will pay those who use AgriFly in the first year $0.15/acre for all jobs scheduled via the app.
Applicators subscribe to be in the AgriFly network, paying an annual fee of $5,500 and a per acre fee of $0.40 when jobs are booked via the app. And if the applicator does not secure at least 3,000 acres total in jobs in a year, AgriFly will reimburse their subscription fee.
For the 2017 season, AgriFly has 17 applicators already signed up with a goal of 50 by the end of their first year in business. The first focus for the company will be the corn fungicide run as it moves north from Texas and Louisiana to the Great Lakes states.
According to the USDA more than 71 million acres are treated via aerial application every year. There are 4,000 aerial applicators registered in the U.S. 85% of the aircraft used are fixed wing, and 13% are rotorcraft/helicopters.
“We want to streamline the process of linking growers and retailers to aerial operators for agricultural work,” Wagenknect says. “One time a Minnesota retailer kept my card from two years ago, and he called us in because an applicator couldn’t fly. What he didn’t know was that there was another operator working out of the same airport he typically used, and that he could have kept the business local.”
Wagenknect says he’s trying to apply old-school business principles in a new school way.
“In December of 2016 I was contacted by an ag retailer wanting to contract with an operator for service in 2017. He needed helicopters for 40,000 acres. This was before the app launched, so I introduced him to five operators from throughout the nation with phone calls, and I did not charge a fee. That introduction was worth upwards to $440,000 gross to one of those operators,” he says.
The app also aims to alleviate pinch points due to weather.
“Just in the past few years in southern Illinois, it was so wet the ground rigs couldn’t get in. They needed aerial applicators but there was no real place to reach out,” he says.
AgriFly will available for iOS download later in March. More information can be found at agriflynetwork.com.