Limitless Horizons: Why Innovative Companies that Help Feed the World are Making a Home in Nebraska
We are proud to share a short piece written by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development about how I-Feeder, an innovative AgTech company, is making a home in Nebraska.
When the first Pioneers settled an untamed grassland that would someday be known as Nebraska, they had to develop new and innovative farming techniques to spring crops from the tough prairie soil. Today, that spirit of innovation has been passed down through the generations, and Nebraska-based agricultural producers and companies are not only feeding America, but leading a global movement toward enhanced food and water security and sustainability.Johan van Zyl of I-Feeder Technologies, a global leader in fertigation equipment — with customers in over 70 countries and locations in South Africa, the UK and the United Arab Emirates — in 2021, I-Feeder launched its first North America headquarters in Omaha in order to grow its newest product line in the backyard of some of the ag industry’s biggest names.Collaborating with London-based agtech software company Smart Fertilizer Software, I-Feeder is ready to launch a wave of cutting-edge products that have the potential to revolutionize the way producers approach crop resource management.
I-Feeder has accrued four decades of experience helping farmers from South Africa to Brazil produce higher crop yields at a lower cost to the business and the environment. Its specialized fertigation hardware allows for the precise control of fertilizer and chemical application, lowering expenses and minimizing environmental impact.
“Chemicals are an expensive component of any ag operation and can be damaging to the environment,” Johan said. “Our goal is to help farmers use as few chemical resources as possible while achieving maximum results.” Through its partnership with Smart Fertilizer Software, I-Feeder has recently added a cutting-edge dimension to its product line, harnessing state-of-the-art software and artificial intelligence to give growers a previously unfathomable level of adaptive control over the chemigation and fertigation process. Using an algorithm developed through years of research and real-world testing, Smart Fertilizer’s software can integrate with I-Feeder equipment to precisely monitor and control the application of chemicals based on the actual needs of the plant and detailed environmental data. “We’ve integrated our hardware and technology in a way that hasn’t previously been achieved,” said Johan. “The I-Feeder equipment is doing the physical work of application, while Smart Fertilizer is telling the hardware what to do on a precision level. Sustainability and resource management is really what’s driving our development.” The company envisions these innovations being adopted throughout the global farming community — from the largest growers to small subsistence farms — where they will help achieve new horizons in food security and resource management. That, says Salvatore Verdoliva, Chief Agronomist for Smart Fertilizer Software, means making the technology accessible to everyone who can benefit from it, not just anyone who can afford it. “We’ve found from experience that a subsistence farmer is given a piece of land and two or three years later the government comes and takes it away because they can’t grow,” Salvatore said. “So part of our mission is to provide knowledge to help farmers around the world succeed.”
With that principle in mind, the partners have leveraged their technology to create a low-cost, subscription-based app that uses detailed, real-world data to generate custom-tailored chemigation and irrigation plans that can maximize the productivity of even the smallest farms while minimizing the use of resources. “Technology is only worthwhile if it is sustainable and cost-effective,” said Salvatore. “We’re here to make products that are affordable to the larger community of farmers. Something that can be mainstream because it works, it’s easy to use and it’s affordable to the global community.” The next step is to introduce the innovations to the world. That, according to I-Feeder General Manager Eli Kol-Bar, is where being located in Nebraska — home to some the industry’s biggest names and early adopters — pays off. “If you asked me 20 times, I would always choose Nebraska,” Eli said. “This is a rich environment not only for established companies but also startups, because you’re surrounded by potential clients who have the ability to push your innovation beyond concept and into adoption.” “If you are in the agtech space, Nebraska is open for business and this is where you need to be,” said DED Director Anthony L. Goins, mentioning the availability of grants through the State that can help agtech startups launch and commercialize innovative, high-potential products and services. It’s no coincidence, says Goins, that some of the world’s top research facilities and foremost experts, including through the University of Nebraska system, call the state home. Being one of America’s top five ag producers comes with a rich tradition and heritage — as well as a vibrant ecosystem for innovation. Meanwhile, in Omaha, Johan says the technologies his partners are about to debut are just the tip of the iceberg. Both I-Feeder and Smart Fertilizer keep pushing the envelope, forming teams to spearhead projects like revolutionary sensors and other technologies that will expand the realm of what‘s possible. Within months, he says, a system will be available for precision, AI-based irrigation and water management. It’s a shift in the landscape, and Nebraska — where that same spirit of innovation continues to propel agriculture forward — provides the ideal home base. “We’re in an era where we’re able to use technology to revolutionize and improve farming in a way the world has never seen before,” said Johan. “There’s definitely a niche for ag technology, and we would choose Nebraska again, hands down.”