Like much of the American heartland, the summertime landscape in Iowa’s Webster County is dominated by several immutable features: hot sun and lots of it; a ruler-straight grid of byways that bend only at old property boundaries and upon encountering water; shining grain silos towering above the plains; and farmhouses surrounded by fields of soybeans, alfalfa, and hay.
And, of course, corn. Hundreds of thousands of acres of it, a sweeping, shimmering sea of green, towering well over even a tall man’s hat by July in a good year. In 2013, just over 200,000 acres, fully 50 percent of Webster County’s farm acreage, was given over to Zea mays.
Brent Larson is part of this economy, farming around 400 acres along with his father and brother. They run their farms primarily in the evenings and on weekends, their workday filled with assisting the hundred or so clients they serve through Sunderman Farm Management, their consulting and brokerage firm. Farming alone is a difficult way to make a living.
So technology that promises to improve a farm’s yields while lowering costs appeals deeply to Larson. Large amounts of capital are tied up in seed, fertilizers, water costs, and equipment, and predicting the impacts of weather and market timing is an annual wrangle if he hopes to make some green of the spendable type.
“People are interested in net income,” Larson said. “The easiest way to make money is to avoid spending it in the first place. If more technology helps avoid additional expenses, that ties in, too.”