2021 PrecisionAg® Awards of Excellence Recipients Announced

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The PrecisionAg® Alliance and its Partner organizations are proud to announce the recipients of the PrecisionAg® Awards of Excellence for 2021. These four outstanding individuals have demonstrated exceptional work in the use and adoption of precision agriculture technologies and practices. They join 57 individuals and organizations honored by the PrecisionAg Alliance since the creation of the awards in 2007.

PrecisionAg Alliance

PrecisionAg Alliance

Partner organizations include the American Soybean Association, Bushel, EFC Systems, Nevonex, Proagrica, Raven Industries, South Dakota State University, Topcon Agriculture, and Yara International.

The 2021 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honored during a special ceremony at the Tech Hub LIVE Conference and Expo in Des Moines on July 21.

The 2021 recipients include:

Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award
Michael Ott, Rantizo

Michael Ott grew up in rural northeastern Iowa, where his family owned a restaurant. The restaurant business was, in some ways, another world from the sophisticated precision ag company he founded many years later. Yet, the lessons he learned there never lost their relevance or value. 
“Everyone says, know your customer. In our restaurant, my dad literally knew everyone that was coming in, and many times he knew what they were going to order,” he says. “When you truly know them that well, it’s a great lesson. That’s what we want to do at Rantizo.” 

As founder and CEO, Ott set his sights on harnessing autonomous drones to apply crop protection products, beginning with his home state of Iowa. The Rantizo system was approved by the state in July 2019, and year later gained nationwide approval for swarming multiple drones for spray application.

Beyond the application itself, Ott through Rantizo has led the development of an end-to-end system focused on integrated and automated solutions for optimized drone-based aerial application. This system includes proprietary technology enhancing the spraying capabilities of the drone, mixing and filling of chemicals into the drone, transport of an entire in-field setup for drone applications, and integration with imagery providers for efficient identification of field issues and rapid deployment of Rantizo application services.

Today, the Rantizo application system allows users to broadcast cover crop seed into crops at all stages without damage and has proven beneficial for spot spraying to ease resistance pressure and applying over acreage in difficult terrain.

Rantizo's success, with Michael at the helm, presents new opportunities for precision agriculture to win, adds Carlson: “It yields new ways for ag retailers to provide better and more robust services to their customers, and it provides farmers with new opportunities for profitability in their operations. This success facilitates wider and more open-minded adoption of precision ag practices and technology which benefit the industry, the businesses, the farmer, and the land.” 

Educator/Researcher Award
Nicholas Uilk, South Dakota State University
South Dakota State University made history when it launched the first four-year precision agriculture degree in 2016. Nicholas Uilk’s efforts to infuse precision agriculture disciplines into SDSU’s Agriculture Systems Technology major classes was a critical contributing factor to the creation of the new offering.
“Nic Uilk is one of the most skilled and appreciated instructors on the South Dakota State University campus, says Dr. Van Kelley, Head of the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department at SDSU. “We are fortunate that he is passionate about teaching students the precision agriculture skills they will need to help farmers be more profitable or to be successful farmers themselves.” 

Uilk, who grew up on a traditional corn and soybean farm in southwestern Minnesota, still revels in working in the trenches to build and grow the precision agriculture accreditation in his role as teacher and program ambassador. Along with teaching a wide range of classes, from introductory precision agriculture to upper-level machinery, Uilk is the first choice of instructors to meet with prospective students and families.

Uilk has continued to bring strong ideas and innovation to the program. In 2016, he convinced the University leadership to purchase eight Kubota UTVs and secured industry support from Raven to outfit each machine with GPS and autosteer to use for student instruction. The units allow 16 students at a time to gain real world experience running, troubleshooting, and repairing precision hardware and software.

He also launched a multi-disciplinary project supported by Pheasants Forever, which puts together students from precision agriculture and wildlife and fisheries science with farmers to improve habitat for wildlife while increasing return on investment for the farm operation.

He also says he stays on top of developments in the fast-changing precision agriculture space by talking to companies and getting out to industry shows as often as he can. 

“Being in communication with the industry has been important to me since the day I started, to stay on top of what’s being utilized out there, and make sure students are aware of new products and how to best utilize them in production ag for their someday customers,” says Uilk.

Farmer Award
Wade Wilson, Olney, IL
At the core, the farmer’s mission is to produce the raw materials that help feed the world. But the practice of farming – trying new techniques and technologies in search of the best approaches to crop production – is how the profession continues to evolve and improve.

For Southeast Illinois farmer Wade Wilson, raising all boats through the testing and implementation of technology on his own farm – and sharing those learnings with others – was a central focus of his operation over nearly two and a half decades of experimentation.

Wade’s son, Jeremy, who took over the family farm operation in 2019 upon his father’s retirement, says his dad has never been the least bit tech-savvy himself, but that never mattered. What drove him and continues to drive him, he says, is “Dad’s deep burning desire to help somebody else. ‘If my five to 10 minutes can help you guys figure out something else in the technology space that makes other people’s lives easier, I’m all in,’” he says of his dad’s mindset.

Wade Wilson started with grid sampling in 1995 and installed the farm’s first yield monitor in 2001. In the late ‘90s, he sought to gain a better understanding of hybrid and variety performance by collecting Veris electrical conductivity data, looking for correlations between yield and multiple variables like soil type, hybrid, variety, and fertility. In 2012, advanced planter controls helped next real leap in the farm’s precision ag journey.

In 2014 a partnership with Dr. Joe Tevis sought to advance real-time yield data calibration, and to begin working to tie grain loads back to actual as-harvested data. This project has provided key foundational work on proving the concept of grain traceability with AgGateway.

His willingness to share his farm operation and practices for the greater good and his passion for quality in every aspect of farming demonstrate the tremendous benefits of collaboration and cooperation in agriculture.

“Wade knew good things would come from this work, and that this was a way for him to contribute something that would benefit producers everywhere,” says Don Bierman, CEO of Crop IMS, an Illinois agronomy and technology consulting firm. “This is what we celebrate today: his selfless commitment to improving the profitability of farming.”

Legacy Award
Dan Frieberg, Premier Crop Systems

The farm technology boom of the late 1990s created a lot of excitement in the industry and forged a new generation of professionals eager to put these emerging tools to work on the farm. Iowa native Dan Frieberg was among these early pioneers who saw the potential and co-founded Premier Crop Systems to help create and unleash the power of field data to provide reliable, consistent recommendations for farmer clients.

Frieberg’s career is diverse, spanning wholesale fertilizer sales, retail management, business consulting, and association work, having served as CEO of the Iowa Fertilizer and Chemical Association and later the Agribusiness Association of Iowa. But it was the power of putting data to work that ultimately forged is future career aspirations.

“I knew that putting all that data together would be potentially something powerful,” he says. In 1999, Frieberg and a likeminded group of retailers founded Premier Crop LLC, and over the years developed a software platform that provides analytics and variable rate prescriptions.  

After working with numerous companies and agronomists Dan kept hearing the term scientific trials and therefore patented, with his team, Enhanced Learning Blocks (ELB). Enhanced Learning Blocks are trials within a field that are replicated and randomized in order to find the right rate within a field. This is all done through a prescription and technology so a farmer doesn't have to stop and can continue to farm at their own pace while the technology does the work for them.

Today, that small start-up in Des Moines now serves close to 8 million acres, helping to improve farm profitability, sustainability, and efficiency. 

“Dan is passionate about the grower. Everything he does in the eye of the grower operation and how he can make a grower more successful,” says his nominator, Renee Hansen. “He knows how difficult it is to raise a crop, to understand and use all the data, and he knows how complex agronomy is, yet accepts the challenge to combine it all together and benefit the grower.” 

About the PrecisionAg Alliance –– The PrecisionAg® Alliance, an initiative of Meister Media Worldwide’s PrecisionAg® Global brand, is a consortium of industry organizations who seek to increase and broadcast technology adoption success amongst agribusiness and grower channels. Through membership, partner organizations gain new market data points, and their combined resources and expertise reveal best practices and improved ag technology solutions from the farm-gate to the dinner plate. Partner organizations include the American Soybean Association, Bushel, EFC Systems, Nevonex, Proagrica, Raven Industries, South Dakota State University, Topcon Agriculture, and Yara International. For more information visit PrecisionAgAlliance.com.

About Meister Media Worldwide
Meister Media Worldwide offers business solutions designed to cultivate a sustainable world through the power of knowledge. It accomplishes this through a host of integrated print, digital and data product offerings, and a variety of in-person events with a singular focus: to further specialized agriculture globally. In addition, its business services division utilizes Meister Media’s wealth of knowledge, combined with the latest technology, to develop strategic business services from concept planning through development and delivery. An industry leader, Meister Media’s mission is to be your trusted partner, empowering the business of global agriculture to grow a better world. With headquarters in Willoughby, Ohio, Meister Media Worldwide was founded in 1932 and operates out of offices throughout the United States and around the world. MeisterMedia.com

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