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How one Iowa community is innovating the agriculture industry

Multiple companies in the Iowa town are innovating how the agriculture industry operates.

DEWITT, Iowa — Picture small town Iowa. It's easy to think of fields of corn and rows of soybeans. However, DeWitt's rich agricultural history doesn't end there. Beyond the crops, several companies in the area are busy growing the next generation of agriculture technology. 

Park Farms Computer Systems

Driving down Highway 30 near DeWitt, you'll see plenty of farmland. But nestled in-between cattle and crops sits Park Farms Computer Systems

"Agriculture is always the leading industry in technology," said President Mike Hofer. 

Today, the company his family founded decades ago, stands strong as a precision ag dealer specializing in electronics. 30 years ago, it was an industry leader in GPS and continues to provide new technologies across the region. 

"Most people that aren't connected to agriculture, they don't realize that technology that we use here is far more advanced than what they use in their own home or at their work," Hofer said. 

Park Farms tests all the latest technology at its farm outside of DeWitt. From there, the crew can not only sell to farmers across the region, but also provide advise and troubleshooting assistance if anything goes wrong. 

"And with the technology and the tractors, everything's connected. So we can log in on our computer and see what they're doing right from our office," Hofer said. "When they're in the field, we have to be here seven days a week to help." 

Right now, he says the biggest technology trends in the agriculture industry are automation and upgrades to sprayers -- think controlled spray booms and individual nozzles. 

All of it, complex and cutting edge. 

"It's place you don't know, sitting on the side of the road that are so innovative," Hofer smiled. "You just see a building, you don't know what they're doing in there!" 

FarmPost App 

Our next company was quite literally born from the innovation happening over at Park Farms. Michael Schaeffer was working for Hofer and his team when he noticed a persistent problem across the industry. 

"A lot of the problems that my customer base had was all about the same. And it all focused on finding ag labor and finding it in a timely manner," Schaeffer said. "We couldn't find a solution that work, so we decided to create one!" 

Thus, FarmPost App was born. The online program allow farmers to post jobs and for farmhands to find those openings. 

It works as both a downloadable app on your phone or a website on your computer. The key is it's a site built, operated by and created for farmers. 

"When you don't have the right labor on hand, that honestly just costs you money because you're not able to finish the job fast enough, or not able to get the crops in the ground fast enough," Schaeffer said. 

When it comes to larger job-posting sites, he says many of his customers were striking out. 

"We wanted to create a platform that was for experienced farm hands and laborers that know exactly what they're looking for and have experience," he added. 

Today, FarmPost is used in all 50 states. There's upwards of 50,000 active users and Schaeffer says a couple hundred thousand have logged on since the app launched in July 2019. 

"And just because it started in DeWitt, a lot of farmers around here have hired off the platform and post jobs frequently," Schaeffer said. 

Around the Midwest, many of the postings revolve around operators and truck drivers, but the possibilities are endless. Farmers can post anything from one-day part time jobs hauling cattle to year-long positions helping out with planting, growing and harvesting crops. 

The app has also added equipment maintenance records, time tracking for payroll purposes as well as health insurance options. It's free to use as a laborer looking for work. If you'd like to post job openings, it's a $249 annual subscription. 

"So it's a one-stop-shop for everything you need," Schaeffer said. 

FarmPost is also hosting a giveaway right now and you don't even have to use the app to enter. 

The company will be giving one lucky winner a 1968 John Deere diesel tractor during a drawing on September 1, 2023. You can sign up to win on the company's Facebook, YouTube or the app itself. 

Ag Spectrum Company

Of course, we can't talk about ag tech around DeWitt without also mentioning Maximum Farming powered by Ag Spectrum Co

The DeWitt-born business has spent the last four decades researching, funding and promoting the latest in growing techniques and innovative practices to farmers across the region. 

"We promote a healthy soil that promotes a healthy root system that really enhances a healthy crop to maximize yield. And that's a visible change," said CEO Wayne Stuedemann. 

Stuedemann was one of six area men who helped found the company back in 1984. A native to DeWitt, Stuedemann has dedicated his life to better farming practices. 

"We've developed something called the maximum farming program that involves everything from herbicides to tillage, to nutrient management, to helping them even choose which hybrids to plant on which soils," he said. 

Today, Ag Spectrum operates in 18 states and employees more than 120 independent associates. Farmers across the region are invited to meetings to learn more about new practices and ideas, as well as tips on how to implement it into their daily routines. 

"For example, we help them think about the soil as a living system," Stuedemann explained. "It's not just dirt -- it's alive! And it's not all that well unless we treat it with some respect." 

Stuedemann takes issue with the idea that a healthy crop can be grown simply by adding more fertilizer to the field. Instead, his team works with farmers to figure out what kind of land they have and what planting, draining, tilling and harvesting practices best maintain the land and its plants. 

The company has also poured millions of dollars into research at local universities, trying to figure out anything from which hybrid seeds are best grown in certain soils and climates, to how biologicals can support healthy, efficient crops. 

So far, millions of acres and thousands of farmers have joined in on Ag Spectrum's movement. 

"The fun part is that's a growing number," Stuedemann said. "Farmers are really at a stage where they can't farm the way their grandfathers farmed or even the way their fathers farmed. That's really where we make our mark, by helping them minimize those inputs to maximize their outputs." 

All of it, based out of DeWitt, Iowa. 

"This town is amazing in its support for all industries and agriculture," Stuedemann said. 

Low Mu Tech

And finally, just across the way in Calamus, Low Mu Tech is carving out its own space in the agriculture technology world. 

As President and CEO Brian Tulley will tell you, "Farmers don't like talking about the part of their job that puts them at risk. But we came up with something that could help eliminate one of those things." 

Introducing: Dust! 

'Dust' is a soy protein product that goes into planters to eliminate friction, resulting in a smoother, more precise planting job. 

But perhaps the biggest draw to 'dust' is that it replaces talc and graphite products that are more traditionally used to reduce planting friction. Both have been linked to numerous health issues and are known carcinogens. 

"[Dust] gave us the ability to do what the talc and graphite was doing, and it gave the farmer the chance to go out to plant and it was cleaner," Tulley said. 

Working with talc and graphite creates enormous, gray dust clouds when working. All those particles can coat a farmer -- not only making their clothes and skin dirty and grimy, but also getting into the lungs, eyes and nose. 

Not only is 'dust' healthier, cleaner and doesn't put the farmer at risk, it's also better for the environment. As a soy protein, there's no harmful chemicals or minerals that are washed from the seeds into waterways. Plus, it's nonharmful to animals or insects that might ingest some 'dust.' 

"And in the end of it, we've seen about an average of a bushel to three bushels, depending on the crop, increase just by using our product," Tulley said.  

Five years in, Low Mu Tech's 'dust' has been used on more than 10 million acres on 22 different crop types across 35 states. 

"Whenever we start looking at an innovation, we look at it as a group of farmers going, 'There's got to be a better way to do this,'" Tulley laughed. But his words ring true. 

From fields around DeWitt to impacts on farms across the country, it's that spirit of innovation that's culminated in industry-leading ag tech companies growing right here in our own backyard.

Find more coverage of WQAD's Hometown Tour in Dewitt on our YouTube channel

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