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Could X-Rays Replace Truck Scales at Your Co-op?

Oct 15, 2015 at 03:54 PM CST

Like so many new businesses, the inspiration forAccuGrain came from a problem.

“I was loading grain trucks on the farm when I was in high school. I was young and inexperienced, so I didn’t know how to load it appropriately so that the (weight load) was legal,” explains Ryan Augustine, who recalled those days while taking an ag entrepreneurship class at Iowa State University in Ames. “I thought, ‘What if there was a way to measure this grain as it comes onto the truck? That would be a great way to save time and (create) other efficiencies.’”

His solution: Use low-energy x-ray technology to measure the flow of grain in real time, rather than the truck scales relied up on by grain elevators.

“From there, the original idea of truck loadout just emerged into so many ways into the grain space, whether that be inventory, in and out, or process efficiency (for grain elevators or feed mills),” said Augustine. “We can measure the grain in real time, so it doesn’t have to be stopped or be weighed or go across the scale.”

Iowa farmer Ryan Augustine developed AccuGrain, which is a finalist in the American Farm Bureau Federation's 2016 Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge.

How accurate could this be? Internal testing found that at a grain flow rate of 5,000 bushels per hour, AccuGrain had a margin of error of just plus/minus 1% on its two working prototypes, according to Augustine.

If that sounds promising to you, you’re not the only one: The American Farm Bureau Federation last week named AccuGrain one of four finalists in its second-annual Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, which highlights rural business innovations affecting food and agriculture.

Only in its second year, the competition received 165 entries, selecting just four to compete in January 2016 for the Rural Entrepreneur of the Year award and the People’s Choice award, which provide winners with $15,000 and $10,000, respectively, in startup funds. (Click here to read about fellow finalist AgriSync.)

“Rural entrepreneurs typically face unique challenges, including limited options for support with resources such as startup funding, which we aim to address through the challenge,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

It’s a big boost for Augustine, 25, who just graduated from Iowa State in 2012. The honor will bring them $15,000 and the chance to compete in the finals for an additional $10,000 to $15,000 at the Farm Bureau’s national meeting in January 2016.

The money will allow the young farmer to continue developing the AccuGrain concept, which also received funding in 2014 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

“The original idea of using x-ray technology to measure grain was developed at Iowa State University, but lacked any real-world application until now,” says Augustine.

He hopes to change that, obviously, and plans to invest the latest award from the Farm Bureau in software development and hardware integration for AccuGrain, which is envisioned as a tool for co-ops, grain elevators, and other large-scale operations.

“We can measure low volumes,” Augustine says. “But the economies of scale need to be there,” given the investment involved.

How much will AccuGrain’s services cost? It’s probably too soon to tell.

“We’re working through our pricing models and getting to where we want to be on a commercial scale, but it’s going to be geared toward higher-volume grain movements, simply because the amount of technology it takes to measure (a grain flow of) 10,000 bushels per hour isn’t that much different than 20,000 bushels per hour,” Augustine says.

For more information on AccuGrain, visitwww.accugrain.com.