Verigrain aims to deliver dollars via reliable sampling

When the pandemic dried up sources of capital to launch Verigrain’s sampling and inventory management system, Ken Jackson and his colleagues did a quick pivot to put a high polish on the product instead. “Capital markets just closed, for many months and we could see that was going to be… we needed dollars to move this thing forward,” said Jackson, CEO of Verigrain. “So, we sort of pulled in our horns from the announcement of COVID for about 18 months and really focused on product development.” Verigrain had a rudimentary launch of its system in 2020 and was ready for a fuller effort in 2021. But Jackson explained their goal is to create a new standard for grain sampling, analysis and tracking that creates confidence both for the buyer and seller. This confidence has a dollar value: from two to 20 percent on the bottom line, according to the company – and it depends on reliable data. “It starts with better representative samples, so that when any analysis is done, that the analysis is going to be meaningful and trusted,” he said. “No one wants to – especially the buyers – no one wants to have those trucks roll in and dump and they don’t have what everybody expects.” The enforced delay in the commercial launch allowed Verigrain to iron out any last wrinkles in terms of durability and usability. It even allowed real-world testing. “We advanced the product quite substantially over about an 18-month period, and then we did a very sizable pilot with about 50 farmers in Canada and the U.S. last fall,” Jackson said. The work paid off when Verigrain re-launched in 2022 and secured the Davidson Prize from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. One of only three given out every year, they are the “best of the best” selected from the winners of the AE50 Awards “given to the best innovations in engineering and technology for agricultural, food, and biological systems.” It was great validation for the Saskatoon-based company with a staff roster of about a dozen. “This was a huge win for us, to be recognized amongst the big guys, you know AGCO and John Deere – they’re leaders in technology in the field. But it’s all about production,” he said. “What we focus on is post-production: ‘now you’ve grown the grain, how do you get the most out of it?’ ” Jackson said the core of the Verigrain system and what really sets it apart is information management, accessed through an app on the grower’s smartphone and an enterprise version for buyers. Growers can easily track what quality and quantity they have in their bins, coordinate lab tests and can choose to share these specs with buyers. “That piece was pretty rudimentary at the start of 2020 but by the time we piloted it in the fall of 2021, we had a pretty substantial information management component.” That information depends upon securing the most accurate, representative samples possible. Verigrain sells an auger and conveyor attachment that automatically takes samples at ideal intervals. Jackson said they also strive to work with farmers to improve their current sampling practices, which can often fall off in the chaos of a busy harvest. “Everyone has a scoop on a stick and a bucket,” he said. “So, we thought, ‘let’s just make that a better experience.’ ” Tools within the Verigrain app include a “sample assist” feature that makes the smartphone beep and vibrate when it’s time to swing that scoop into the auger flow, taking a random, manual act and giving it optimum intervals. “The importance of that is if you don’t have a representative sample, everything you do after that really starts to be of less value,” Jackson said. “Without a representative sample, any analysis you do is somewhere between suspect and meaningless.” Samples go into sealed square Verigrain buckets or bags, each with a unique bar code that links to the sample’s online information. This includes anything the grower wants to add. Lab tests can be ordered through the app, with the physical sample following, then results get added to the sample’s online information. A clear window on the buckets allows crop identification at a glance. “Everything we do is focused on, ‘let’s make this so easy for growers to do,’” Jackson said. “You can’t give them more to do. You have to give them less to do or it’s not going to work. It’s kind of the ‘easy’ button for sample acquisition and data management.” For grain buyers, he said the efficiency gains and confidence in quality delivered are worth paying a premium to growers. “We’re really creating an environment of transparency and trust between the grower and the buyer where they both know what they have; there’s confidence and trust there.” A Verigrain subscription costs $395 per year (an introductory price is available) and sample buckets and bags cost a few hundred dollars a year depending on how many are needed. Details are available at verigrain.com. Read the article at producer.com.

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