ROCKWELL CITY - What if there were a simple way to record nutrient applications to fields and track the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium amounts per acre?
Mike Sexton's web-based Real Time Ag program makes it possible.
"If the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is going to work, we not only need conservation practices, but we need to manage nutrients more effectively," said Sexton, 52, of Rockwell City, who received the 2013 Neal Smith Entrepreneur of the Year Award on Nov. 7 from the Iowa Small Business Development Center. "It's critical for producers to have an easy way to see exactly what nutrients have been applied. That's where Real Time Ag comes in."
-Messenger photo by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Mike Sexton works in his Rockwell City office. He was named, on Nov. 7, the 2013 recipient of the Neal Smith Entrepreneur of the Year from the Iowa Small Business Development Center for his software program that helps farmers and manure applicators to accurately document nutrient applications to confirm compliance to state and federal regulations.
Real Time Ag lets producers, technical service providers, agronomists and environmental consultants track all nutrient activity that occurs on the farmers' land.
A manure spreading contractor, for example, can log onto the secure site and enter spreading information related to his client's nutrient application event.
Not only can producers and their technical service providers view the data, but they can create reports that meet the record-keeping requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and their state's environmental regulatory agency.
The timing is right for an innovative solution like Real Time Ag, said Gene Tinker, animal feeding operations coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "Either we're mining the soil, or we're putting on more nutrients than we're removing in the form of higher yields.
"The Real Time Ag software helps producers fine-tune their manure management program and validate that they're doing what they're trying to accomplish."
Software fits a variety of livestock operations
Real Time Ag builds on the foundation that Sexton created with his Manure Works software program, which rolled out in 2009. Through his latest version, Sexton has created a system that can fit the needs of any type of livestock production system, including swine operations, feedlots and dairies.
Real Time Ag allows users to enter their cropping information, such as the previous crop grown on the field where the manure will be spread, whether the previous crop received manure and what crop will be planted during the next growing season.
The system also records how much commercial nitrogen is planned for these acres, the manure nitrogen carryover credit, any legume nitrogen credit, the manure application rate to supply the remaining nitrogen and the planned manure application rate.
"A lot of the features in Real Time Ag are tools that clients have asked for," said Sexton, who farms and designed the software program to help determine how much manure can be applied to a specific field.
There is also an area to note the phosphorus-based rate, actual manure application information and nutrient amounts per acre, based on actual manure analysis data.
"What really sold me on Real Time Ag is the fact that Mike farms and understands regulatory compliance issues," said Jared Anez, president and lead consultant with Anez Consulting in Willmar, Minn., who works with dairy, swine, beef and poultry producers. "The biggest benefit of the program is that it's so comprehensive and makes information easily accessible in one place."
Real Time Ag, which runs on GIS technology, automatically records reported weather data for the local area during the spreading event, including wind speed and direction, temperature and precipitation.
In addition, the software allows the user to provide more detail by adding his or her notes on the observed weather conditions at the time of the manure application.
Details of a manure spreading event can be entered into the system in a matter of seconds, said Sexton, who added that the data is securely stored on an off-site server.
There is no software to load on the computer, and all updates will be performed by Real Time Ag, LLC, so users never need to worry about keeping up with updates.
The next level
Real Time Ag offers peace of mind by notifying users when soil tests need to be updated and issuing reminders about dates when manure management plans need to be filed with regulatory agencies.
"There are so many ways to use the information in Real Time Ag," Anez said. "It gives you a plan to help grow your crops, and it provides data that in the right format for the regulatory agencies.
"It can provide the information you need to apply for cost-share dollars if you're working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service."
Sexton plans to take Real Time Ag to the next level by allowing users to drop their existing as-applied maps into the system.
He's also developing an app for the record-keeping component so spreading events can be entered into the system in real-time.
"This means the applicator could be in the tractor, applying manure and entering the information into the system through a tablet computer," Sexton said.
Investing in rural Iowa
This ability to identify needs and supply sustainable solutions makes Sexton a true entrepreneur, said Lisa Shimkat, director of the North Central Iowa Small Business Development Center in Fort Dodge. "Mike didn't look for a traditional answer.
"Instead, he wanted to create a solution that made the most sense for all stakeholders in the industry."
Shimkat has worked with Sexton as he developed Real Time Ag.
"It was a gutsy move to grab onto such a large issue," Shimkat said. "Now Real Time Ag is gaining momentum not only in Iowa, but other states that are asking for similar solutions."
Entrepreneurs like Sexton also propel Iowa's economic growth while enhancing the state's quality of life.
"Not only is Mike tackling a challenge that has a real return-on-investment opportunity," said Mike Colwell, executive director of the Business Innovation Zone in Des Moines, who has mentored Sexton, "but his software can have a positive influence from an environmental standpoint.
"He's a great example of Iowans solving global problems, and Iowa is perfectly positioned to continue leading the world in this area."