Agriculture is a profitable field

Out on the field : How start-ups are changing agriculture

Not a field far and wide. If Miro Wilms wants to visit his customers, he has to get out of town. The view from his office window only extends to the old town house in Berlin-Mitte. And instead of country air, the vapors of the former GDR administration building strike the visitor in the rooms of the Berlin start-up Trecker.com. “We have absolutely no background in agriculture,” says Wilms. This is exactly where he and Benedikt Voit, as his co-founder, see their opportunity. With their software, which they are developing in Klosterstrasse, they want to catapult farmers into the digital age.

When the two were looking for an idea for a start-up, a buddy from the Ministry of Agriculture gave them the decisive impetus. It is true that tractors with sensor technology have long been recording their immediate surroundings in the fields of the republic. Combine harvesters transmit their position to the nearest meter using GPS technology. In the offices, however, things are partly like the 1960s.

The chaos of notes as the hour of birth

The two wanted to see it for themselves - and did an internship on the farm. “In the middle of the corn harvest we were sitting there in the office and everything was full of notes,” recalls Voigt. How long was the machine in use, how long the other one, how much fuel did it use, how long was the workforce outside? The answers to all these questions were written on paper, some of them illegible. "The companies in which we interned were professional - but a bit of yesterday in terms of administration," says Wilms.

That was 2012 and the chaos of notes was the hour of birth of Trecker.com. Wilms, the business economist, and Voigt, the programmer, returned to their small office in the Humboldt University and began to tinker with things. “Of course there was software for farmers, but nobody had ever asked them what they needed specifically for their purposes,” says Voigt. That should change. Again and again they sought contact with the farmers and worked with them to develop networked solutions between field and administration.

Expensive machines are better utilized

“In the past, our employees wrote everything down on pieces of paper and entered them in Excel tables,” says Andreas Osters. “Today we get the data on the times and locations of the operation in real time.” Osters is the managing director of Osters & Voss, which as a contractor lends large agricultural machines and the staff who can operate them to farmers. The purchase is not worthwhile for individual farms. “An example: the grain harvest only takes 18 days. That means that the expensive machines are only in use for a few days a year, ”says Osters.

But even for large companies, time is money. And anyone who has to coordinate around 750 tractors, combine harvesters, trucks, trailers and other field vehicles will appreciate being able to do without paperwork. "We have been able to increase our sales by around 50 percent in the last three years without increasing the administration accordingly," says Osters. "That would certainly not have been possible without the software." But the seasoned does not want to leave the fame to the two young entrepreneurs alone. "The thoughts and decades of practice that go into the software are ours," he emphasizes. "Trecker.com are the designers."

"Farmers are very suspicious"

And maybe they are a little more. With the software that Osters also uses, Voigt and Wilms could reach a maximum of 4,000 contractors in this country. The total of 280,000 farms are so much greater potential that Trecker.com has now developed a farm management system for them. How was the last harvest? In which areas is the farm profitable? "If an area is not profitable, it can have different causes," says Wilms. The field could be too far away, the seeds too expensive, the amount of fertilizer too high. All of this can be found out with the software. “We're not reinventing the wheel, but by networking different factors, the farmers can work much more precisely.” The two young entrepreneurs claim that the farmers already have five percent more profit.

They have already convinced a low three-digit number of customers. Not an easy task. “Farmers are very suspicious,” Voigt learned. For example, when it comes to your data. The two emphasize that they are safely stored on servers in Germany and mirrored several times.

Trouble with the competition

Farmers and contractors pay license fees for the software. So much comes together that Trecker.com could work profitably. A rather theoretical calculation. Because, as is usual in the scene, the Berliners have now brought sponsors on board in order to be able to grow faster. And growth costs money. They collected a good two million euros from the Munich financier Target Partners. Investors want results: Wilms reports that the number of employees has grown from five to 45 within a year. Your small office from back then would easily fit into the new meeting room in which you are currently sitting. “In Berlin, we are probably in the best location in the world.” Germany is a leader in agricultural engineering and the companies in East Germany are large and professional. "At the same time, you can find the best developers in Berlin - we have ten of them."

But not only investors have become aware of the start-up. At Agritechnica, one of the largest agricultural fairs alongside Green Week, the Berliners received a warning from 365Farmnet. The direct competitor is located in Berlin just a few streets away on Hausvogteiplatz and is an offshoot of the agricultural machinery manufacturer Claas. The tractor slogan "The simplest software in agriculture" challenged 365Farmnet - superlatives are not allowed. The fact that the warning actually came was an accident, says 365 spokeswoman Katrin Polenz. An overzealous employee has pushed ahead. "We are for healthy competition."

A question of addiction

In the eyes of Voigt and Wilms, the real competitors are anyway where the possibilities are unlimited. Agricultural start-ups such as Farmlogs or Granular are currently collecting double-digit million amounts in California's Silicon Valley. One of the investors is Google.

In this country, alongside 365Farmnet, the agricultural trader Baywa and the US agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere are vying for farmers with a sense of smart farming. Trecker.com also relies on the proverbial stubbornness of farmers. Once convinced, they wouldn't change so quickly. It could work out. “Machine manufacturers rely on their software solutions to be dependent,” says contractor Osters. "We prefer to be dependent on Trecker.com, so we have a free choice of machines."

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