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Alberta Yield: Top Grade Ag going digital with grain drying

If you’re just relying on Mother Nature to dry your grain, you’re doing it wrong, say the founders of Calgary start up with a simple solution for any bin.

Glenn Wilde and Kent Gulka, engineers and co-founders of Top Grade Ag, have taken the guesswork out of making sure producers are optimally drying grains.

Grains are dried to ensure they can be stored without spoiling and to prevent the loss of germination capacity.

Wilde, who grew up on a Saskatchewan farm before moving back to Calgary, has been going back to the farm to help for years. There, he gained a greater understanding of the grain drying process.

When the pair met at the University of Saskatchewan, Wilde had already tinkered with some instrumentation that would help producers understand how their grain was drying.  Gulka was in the IT world, continuing his career in Calgary in database systems, web management and mobile technology.

“We’ve come a long ways since then. Now, we got together and started to put a commercial product together,” Gulka said.

Calculating the variables – without the cost

The duo took the instrumentation, which produced the data and coupled it with an easily accessible web app to help producers track the drying process.

They track airflow, humidity, external heating, water content and even how much water is leaving the grain. It’s available at the farmers’ fingertips.

Many farmers are having to regularly sample grains, move them in the bins all while hoping they’ve reached the target humidity and moisture content, said Wilde.

“In any case, without a system like ours, they have no idea how well it’s working and when that grain will be done,” he said.

It’s about improving efficiency and reducing the risk, said Gulka.

Their design cuts the cost for producers, too. Larger farms may be able to purchase purpose-built bins with grain dryers. Most farmers with a standard grain bin don’t have that luxury and rely on instinct and good luck.

“Seventy per cent of farms are, for the most part, just crossing their fingers,” said Wilde.

The Top Grade Ag system can be retrofitted on to existing grain bins at a fraction of the cost, Wilde said.

“It literally converts a steel bin into a grain dryer. The thing that it does, that we want to provide, is accurate costs,” he said.  

“We want farmers to know that it’s exactly what it’s costing for that drying event so that they can sleep at night knowing they’re making a really smart business decision.”

Getting the product to market

While they possess the technical expertise and the farming know-how, what Wilde and Gulka lacked was strength in developing the business.

The work with the Alberta Yield program has helped them build a foundation to take the system they’ve designed and scale it to a larger market.

“For us, the big lack is marketing and sales,” said Wilde.

Their goal is to take the product out to Alberta’s farming community and start generating cash flow.  

“The expertise on the start-up side of things is really filling in a lot of holes we might have had in our plan or and given us insights on how to solve some of the problems that we’ve encountered,” said Gulka.

They have installs in all of the Prairie provinces at the moments and the plan is to continue expanding in Western Canada. The pair also note that it works for any field grain, oil seed or specialty crops, so the field’s the limit.

“It’s still a big market there just in those two provinces and you put Manitoba in there, there’s a a lot of room to grow,” said Gulka.