The Iowa Small Business Development Center for North Central Iowa helped Mike Sexton with his Demonstration Fund application during the development phase of his nutrient management regulation software business and then critiqued the project and provided additional insights on what he would need to be successful.
Mike Sexton knew that there were problems in tracking data needed by livestock producers to meet regulations. Many times the data, when even remembered to be documented, is hand written on a coffee-stained, loose piece of paper that is thrown into a pile and not pulled out until a producer is audited by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Mike’s company, Real Time Ag, LLC, has solved this problem for the farmer. Its computer software makes it easier for farmers to track and record their nutrient application records and generate the required reports that meet all of the regulatory requirements. While this may not sound as glamorous as other computer software, it is necessary for livestock producers.
Mike saw the need to work with the state of Iowa to make his product state-specific. During the initial process, he was approached by Iowa State University because interested faculty saw the software’s potential and wanted to help with its design and data implementation possibilities. Everyone involved realized the problems to be solved—water run-off, high nitrate levels, and lack of efficient and accurate tracking—were setting Iowa on a course for future, expensive problems. These problems were never more evident as noted in 2010 in the state of Florida.
On January 26, 2010, the EPA proposed water quality standards in Florida that would set a series of numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen allowed in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals. Unfortunately, the EPA significantly underestimated the affected acreage of agriculture. In addition, the EPA’s cost estimate assumed that only a subset of typical best management practices would be needed to achieve the criteria. In contrast, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) estimate assumed that all typical best management practices would be necessary.
A study by the University of Florida and FDACS concluded that the EPA numeric regulations would directly cost Florida’s agricultural community about one billion dollars each year, with additional indirect costs also exceeding one billion dollars. The study goes on to indicate that the implementation of the EPA regulations could put more than 14,000 agricultural workers out of work. Being able to manage nutrient levels and prevent runoff would increase efficiency within the industry as well as minimize or even eliminate high nitrate levels in city and rural drinking water.
John A. Downing, Ph.D. said, “I have studied Real Time Ag’s future plans, and believe this system, especially with the proposed enhancements, will not only have benefits to his customers, but to all Americans who depend on clean, safe, high-quality water resources.” Dr. Downing is the Chair of the Environmental Science Graduate Program at Iowa State University, plus a Professor of Agricultural and Bio Systems Engineering & Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, and President Elect of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography.
In the first stage of Real Time Ag’s product, the Iowa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for North Central Iowa assisted Mike with his application to the state’s Demonstration Fund. Mike received that round of funding, with matching funds from his personal accounts, to develop phase one of his software. His primary marketing targets are farm management consultants, which helps him reach more farms more quickly than if he marketed directly to the farmers.
Many people benefit from Real Time Ag’s computer software. Farmers can make better decisions about manure and fertilizer applications, map nutrient applications, stay in compliance and avoid environmental fines, plus they can easily update and access their federally-required nutrient management plans from anywhere without specialized hardware. For agricultural agronomists the software provides an easier record keeping system, additional income, no specialized hardware to deal with, and more complete client data that can be accessed from anywhere. Regulatory agencies get increased compliance, more detailed nutrient application data, can complete audits remotely (which decreases costs), can perform more audits without specialized hardware, and can compare digital data sources to better track ground water. And finally, community water sources will benefit from more sustainable farming practices.
Gene Tinker, Animal Feeding Operations Coordinator of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the following about Real Time Ag’s software, “This software will give the Iowa Department of Natural Resources the ability to do virtual inspections, which greatly increases the efficiency of the department.”
Real Time Ag, LLC is now in discussions with the states of Colorado and California to customize the software to their state-specific regulatory items. Additional future possibilities would include using Real Time Ag’s geographic information system capabilities to enhance watershed tracking and be a preventative tool for regulatory and compliance agencies, while still helping those in agriculture realize their maximum yield potential.
Mike Sexton praises the assistance he received from the Iowa SBDC saying, “The Small Business Development Center helped us with our Demonstration Fund application when we were in the development phase of our operation. They were able to critique the project and provide additional insight to what we may need to be successful. They are a great resource for our state and for entrepreneurs wanting to grow their businesses.”
On March 4, 2014, Mike was honored as the Iowa SBDC’s 2013 Neal Smith Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner. He was presented with an award plaque and House and Senate Certificates of Recognition in a ceremony held at the State Capitol. He also met Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, who congratulated him on his accomplishments.
Mike Sexton is a true entrepreneur who is always looking for ways to make his company’s processes better, so Real Time Ag and its customers can grow and be successful. To find out more about this forward-thinking company, visit www.realtimeag.com.