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Agriculture Technology Podcast: Greentronics

Podcast Ep. 95: Greentronics

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Meet Greentronics.

They design and manufacture electronic control products for use in agriculture.

Their products help growers do a better job on their farms, understand how their crop is performing, and ensuring their equipment is working smart.

These products range in solutions for sprayers, yield monitors, to tilt control.

Bill Menkveld and Richard Bishop from Greentronics join host Tony Kramer on Episode 95.

Listen to the episode here:

Related episode: Episode 94 Precision Ag Adoption

Read the entire transcript here:

Tony Kramer: Hello everyone, this is Tony Kramer, product specialist with RDO Equipment Company and you are listening to the Agriculture Technology Podcast.

Automated Voice: Every day there are phenomenal advancements being made in the field of agriculture technology. RDO Equipment Company is a leader in agriculture equipment and precision agriculture technology and is here with industry experts to bring you the latest news and information from RDO and John Deere. Thanks for joining us on the Agriculture Technology Podcast.

Tony: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 94. Today we're going to be talking about Greentronics electronics products. Before we dive into the show, please take a moment to subscribe to this podcast if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we're streaming this out to such as Apple's podcasting app, we have it on Stitcher, Overcast, SoundCloud, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Lastly, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on twitter @RDOTonyK.

Now with that, let's get back to the show. I am really excited to welcome Bill Menkveld, who is the vice president of sales with Greentronics as well as Richard Bishop, who is the sales engineer for Greentronics, and also owner of BishTec Engineering Solutions. Thanks for joining us on the show today, Bill and Richard. To get started I'd like to hear a little bit more about you guys and your background and how you got involved in this industry. Bill, why don't you start off first?

Bill Menkveld: Yes, a little bit background for myself. Born and raised in the Netherlands, came to Canada in '79 with my parents. My parents had a custom work business in the Netherlands, so I learned to work with a whole variety of the farm equipment from a very young age. We moved to Canada, started farming, I grew away from the farm a little bit and studied agronomy at the University of Guelph. That made for a really fantastic career, which in the end, put me back into the equipment business with a specialization in potato equipment. Really enjoyed that and along the way that brought along some challenges for thinking through what other devices we could add to the equipment to make them work better, perform better. That's where my brother came in, who came along with us to Canada and studied electronics engineering. He and I began a business together developing a variety of devices and I'll talk about that in a few minutes.

Tony: All right, Richard, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the industry.

Richard Bishop: My industry started with John Deere. I spent six years with John Deere engineering developing different products. IVT transmission was my specialty. Then I needed to move back home to Idaho where I grew up. I picked up my family moved back to Idaho where I spent the following 10 years in the ag industry, developing products with Spudnik Equipment Company and Grimme. I was the Grimme manager for self-propelled machines. The self-propelled sugar beet machines here in the area for a few years but I was traveling so much I decided to branch out on my own, start my own company called BishTec. I was involved with Greentronics products over the years and picked up their products as a dealer and was selling Greentronics products and shortly after, took on a role as a rep for the entire western US. I knew the products, knew that I could make them work well and Greentronics is a good fit with the technology background that I have. I really love being on the farm. I love tweaking on things and making them work so this was an awesome fit for my business. As a sales engineering and consultant with Greentronics, I've been able to have a lot of fun over the last few years.

Tony: All right, let's go back to Bill here. Tell us a little bit about the history of Greentronics. You mentioned your brother being involved at a point and whatnot. Talk to our listeners a little bit about the history.

Bill: Yes. Our education actually worked out really well with my brother doing engineering and myself studying agronomy. We both had that farming background with a lot of hands-on time with different types of equipment. We had a good idea about what the shortcomings were in some of the farm equipment that was being used. When I started working with an equipment dealer and we worked a lot with Grimme and Spudnik Potato Equipment, it was immediately obvious where we could add some technology to improve the functionality of those machines and also allow the users to start collecting data. We focused on yield data at first but we can do more things now.

That history is actually-- when I think about that now, is actually already 25 years. We started in about '94, '95. At first, the challenges, the products that we developed were fairly simple. We started with a very simple tilt, automatic tilt controller for potato harvesters to keep them level on side hills so they do a better job separating. Then, gentlemen in Ontario, Canada, challenged us to develop a yield monitor and we spent a whole summer in my garage. That's really where our business started in our garage. We came up with a good product.

Back then computers were slow and people weren't able to have easy access to mapping programs and data processing programs. That became a real barrier to the introduction of the yield monitor product. We branched out a little bit and basically simplified the yield monitor product into a conveyor scale that growers can basically purchase and install on conveyors that they already own. With that scale, they can track product flowing on the farm, so either into bins or out of bins, when they're loading trucks, they can easily store information like totals for fields or test plots, and the like. We've grown that product out to include a lot more things since that time.

From a very early stage, my brother had this notion that he could develop a sonar sensor that you could install on a whole variety of equipment but initially at first just sprayers for automatic boom height control. That became our RiteHeight product. It went through a whole number of iterations, of course, and when I think back now on the very first one that we developed and how clumsy it was and in a sense how poorly it performed compared to what we have now, yes, we've come a long ways.

We ended up, in a sense, splitting our business over two different types of sensors. We use sonar sensors to measure distance. At the moment, it's sonar sensors, but in the future, that will incorporate radar sensors and laser sensors. We've used sonar sensors for automatic boom height controller sprayers, but we can also use them for controlling planting depth on potato planters and other planters, tillage depth for different types of tillage implements. We're learning how to use them on the harvester booms to control the drop height of potatoes to protect the product from getting bruised and to help operators with maybe not as many years of experience as the owner of the farm might like so that they can still do a good job with that.

Then the other line of sensors we use is a load cell, so a strain gauge. With that, we are able to measure weight over time. You can install a load cell in a conveyor and measure the flow rate which you can then use to control other equipment that needs to know what the flow rate of the product is. We can give you total mass that passed over the conveyor so you can measure load weights, you can see what went into a bin or what came out of a bin. You can actually build an entire tracking system using load cells and other sensors to follow trucks in the field, to follow trucks to the storage, to follow where the piler is in the storage and where it's putting each load.

There's a whole variety of products that we've developed over time and all with the purpose of enabling owners to do a better job on their farms, understand more how well their crop is performing in different fields and enabling them to get the best out of their equipment.

Tony: Great. Now let's go back to Richard. So BishTec solutions or engineering solutions. Tell us a little bit about the history of that business and how it ties in with the Greentronics.

Richard: The history of BishTec, I started off four years ago and branched out on my own. I was able to pick up several Greentronics installers, people that were interested in weighing solutions as well as yield mapping solutions. I put on one of the very first yield monitors a few years before I started on my own up in Alberta, and was able to work with John Deere to get the yield mapping system working with my John Deere background and with the John Deere ISOBUS work that Greentronics had done. We were able to make everything handshake well.

My company started marketing and selling some of the Greentronics products. I also was able to pick up some design projects for entire potato processing facilities as well as network with some of my farmers on some solutions that they had.

One farmer pulled me aside and said, "Our depth is horrible across our farm. You have to do something." He explained his conglomeration of sensors and weight things that he thought would work. I said, "Listen." I said, "I'm not going to do what you want, but I know that I have this one product for Greentronics I'll put it on a large eight-row potato planter and I know that I can get your depth right." He says, "Okay, well we'll give it a try." Put five systems on next week. I love that. I was able to do that and within my company, I'm able to work immediately and get that solution on for the farm. I love that. I've been able to do that in dozens of other scenarios. That's where my company, I've been able to do custom solutions.

One customer last spring said, "Well, we like the weigh scale because it gives bags per hour and I can stare at that and then go over and set my chemical." He said, "But won't you just make it work automatic so I don't have to have people?" "No problem." We pushed the weight out of the scale directly into a dosing system. Then the doser ran the prescription without having to have any people interaction. In one case last week we did some numbers on chemical application and we were saving $1,000 per hour for the farm based on what chemical they were putting on their seed treat operation.

Tony: That's great to hear. I mean, it sounds like with the solutions and the products that Greentronics has to offer and then your knowledge and experience with a BishTec and what you're doing there, it really sounds like you guys have a full package when it comes to solutions in different parts of the ag industry. You had talked about the yield monitoring system, and I want to dive into that a little bit deeper. Before we do, Bill, when you were talking about the history of Greentronics, you had mentioned some of your products. Why don't we go back through, just real briefly touch on the names of those products and essentially what their piece of the puzzle is.

Bill: The first one that I mentioned to you was boom height control on sprayers. We call that our RiteHeight system, and it involves a sonar sensor similar to what Norac and Raven do. It enables that sprayer to do a better job putting chemicals where they need to be. It also helps the operator from not hitting the boom in the ground or in the crop and causing damage.

We also use that same sonar sensor technology on planters, potato planters and Richard mentioned that. He's done a fantastic job with that and we really appreciate that. That actually came out of one of the big potato farmers from Nebraska who tried it on their own and made it work and told us about it. We've taken that and developed a system a little bit better. It's a little bit easier to configure how the sensors work on a potato planter. We call it our RiteDepth system and that same system can be used on other implements such as liquid fertilizer applicators to control the depth of them.

We've got a product called RiteDrop and that's basically using sonar sensors on the end of our harvester boom so you control the drop height. You want that always to be less than six inches to protect the potatoes from getting bruised. It also helps the operator do a better job without having to pay attention to it.

I once sat in a tractor and counted how many times that boom height switch gets used while filling just one load, 1/10 of load of potatoes and I quit at 70. The load wasn't full at that point but I thought, "Wow, that is just amazing. If we can put some sensors on the end of that boom to automate some of that, how much time is that going to save for the operator who will then have more time to spend on other aspects of running that machine to do its best potential?"

Then we've talked about using load cells, and we use them for RiteYield product. That's our yield monitor. Also our RiteWeight product, which is our conveyor scale. We can talk a little bit more about RiteYield if you like.

I do want to give a lot of credit to John Deere. I know this is an audio podcast, but still, it's just been amazing all these years how through a number of connections some from as far away as Australia, we got involved with John Deere and their engineering team and learning how to output data from our yield monitor into the John Deere system so that displays like the 2630 give you a real-time map right in front of you as you harvest the crop. Of course, then that system can store the data and make data transfer to other computers on the farm or to a cloud server just absolutely seamless.

It's a very easy process and it just adds so much functionality to the yield monitor and how the data can be used. The John Deere Operations Center is fantastic. It's very user-friendly, so I've heard, and people are using that widely to understand better how the crop is performing in the field.

Tony: The RiteYield system is really one of the things that I get excited about because you guys, you took the initiative, you reached out to John Deere and you got that awesome handshake between the two systems. The way it talks and how everything works together, that's what I'm really happy about. In the ag industry with your corn, your soybeans, we've always talked about yield and mapping yield, but it hasn't really been a solution in the specialty crop industry just because traditionally it's been a very manual process and we're starting to get further and further in technology with specialty crops.

For Greentronics to partner with John Deere and offer this yield mapping solution, it's awesome for us of course, RDO Equipment Company being a John Deere dealership, but also carrying the Greentronics line, I'm really excited about it. Why don't you talk to us Bill or Richard whoever, tell us a little bit what crops can the RiteYield be used for and what does that data look like?

Bill: Sure. I'll take the first part of that question, what crops can the system be used for? That is just expanding all the time. We started with potatoes because that's the background for my brother and myself, the potato industry. Our parents grew potatoes, harvested potatoes, did customer harvesting. We knew that industry and I had worked in it myself for many years with Spudnik and Grimme.

That was a natural fit and we had a lot of contact, but over time, that's really widened out. Now we do yield mapping for grape harvesters, we do yield mapping for some sweet corn harvesters, for some seed corn harvesters. We've actually got some on a walnut harvester. We're looking into almonds, we haven't gotten one there yet, but blueberries and other types of berries. Basically, any conveyor where crop or any harvester where crop moves on a conveyor where we can install load cells, that's where there's work.

The latest success story is from Costa Rica where we installed a yield monitor on a sugar cane harvester. We'd already done quite a number in Australia, also in the sugar cane. This one is a little bit closer to home, and I hope we see some of that use in the USA as well in the next few years. Richard, why don't you talk a little bit more about the technical side of the yield mapping.

Richard: Thanks, Bill. On the technical side for installation and calibration, basically, belted chain or belting, but normally belted chain will run on rollers. You have a small four inch roller, you simply remove the roller, mount the load cell and then mount the roller to the load cell under the chain. Of course, it's important to make sure that those are straight and in line just like they were when you took them off, but mounted to the load cell, so the weight that comes across the system is weighed.

The two load cells, usually we make sure that they're balanced within each other, and we put a tilt sensor on most applications so that if you go side to side on side hills or up and down or even your boom moves, we keep everything calibrated for you.

The hard work is done by us and to install, you just simply have to take the roller out, mount it to the load cell and put it back in. At that point, we run a few loads across it, and then we train our system to know that those loads weighed, let's say, five tons. You ran the first five tons across, and then we compare our weight with yours, and then we do a span calibration that zeros our scale to reality and to what needs to happen. With different crops, the calibration stays the same with different weights or conveyor speeds. Once we're calibrated, we stay calibrated fairly well. Then we can build yield maps from that for the farm.

Tony: I got the opportunity to run this system this last season harvesting sugar beets. We had a grower that we partnered with and we were able to see how that system works. One thing I can say, installation and calibration, so simple. That is such a great product. It's not over the top of your head. It's a very simple, easy process and the calibration too is very simple. In the end, it's really very similar to a combine yield. You're calibrating it, you're truthing the weight. It works very similar to a combine.Now, talking from a data standpoint or the maps, what does that look like? In a specialty crop situation, what does this data look like and how can it be used?

Bill: First of all, the data will come across on the John Deere Operations Center, very similar to a cornfield that you've gone through. It paints right side by side with it, or over top of it. If you did corn a previous year, and then you've done your your fertilizing, you can also put your yield of your sugar beets right on top of that. It layers in direct with Operations Center, or even years back worth of data can be imported in through John Deere and through the software solutions that they offer, through the John Deere Center.

The data looks very similar to any other yield data you may have seen, which is good. Then you can you use that data, first of all, just to know how many tons you've shipped that day. You can look on your screen and see that, as well as you can use that to know what sacks per acre and the way that your fields are performing within the field or compared to other fields that may be sandier or with heavier soil.

Tony: This data that you guys are collecting, like I said, it is great to see this partnership with Greentronics and John Deere. I know from my standpoint growing up with a family farm that still today raises sugar beets and Bill, listening to you talk about all the different crops that you guys are in and/or looking to be in, it is just great to hear that more technology is coming to a lot of these specialty crops that in the past traditionally have been more manual than technological. It's really cool to hear what you guys are doing. Is there any sort of a success story you'd like to share with our listeners about something that either Greentronics and/or BishTec has come about?

Richard: I have one that comes to mind with our Greentronics products last year. We worked on a farm in Idaho that ordered several yield monitor system, several weighing systems on their equipment at the storage. This was a potato farmer but he said, "Listen." He says, "I want your equipment installed by April so that I can use this in my planting operation." He still has plans to use it on his grain operation. We haven't figured that out yet for which crop went to which bin, but we were able to install our RiteTrace product, which is RiteYield accompanied with some RiteWeigh scales in certain locations, and then we tracked the products from place to place.

We were able to track the seed from the farm through each truck down into the potato planter, and we documented the whole process into the dirt. As soon as harvest came around, we documented the process out of the dirt. We had about six hours to switch between potato harvest and sugar beet. We moved all of the yield monitor systems over to the sugar beet harvester, and then he had his trucks tagged so we harvested sugar beets with the RiteYield system, and there was no additional licensing or anything. He had all the equipment, so he owns it.

His sugar beet harvest went really well and the discrepancies between the beet dump and what he actually put on the trucks were solidified because he actually knew what he put on the trucks within a very close margin, and how many trucks he hauled, how many trucks of his neighbors that he loaded. It was actually a really good success story for us because we're able to go across multiple crops with one system.

One of the things that people ask about is tear dirt. We weighed the system after everything was clean, we weighed in the potatoes, at least. We weighed everything clean, and we weighed things in the field so we could subtract out the tear dirt and build a net map for them as well and eliminated the dirt out of the yield map within the field. That was actually a great success and helps us know what we're doing also for future systems to be able to be more refined and fine tuned.

Bill: I was talking earlier about where the yield monitor get used and it's the traditional root crops. We're thinking of potatoes, carrots, onions, beets. Another success story lies in where else we've used it and that's come together the last three or four years, and that's with Pickett combines. Pickett combines are primarily used in the edible bean markets. They have a very gentle way of handling the beans so there's fewer splits.

That system includes a couple of bucket elevators that are on the combine and bring the cleaned beans up into the hopper bin. We've learned how to use a load cell, a simple load cell attached to the hydraulic motor that drives those bucket elevators. We can measure in a sense the torque that that hydraulic motor is putting on the load cell. That is linearly related to the amount of weight that the bucket elevators are moving.

We've actually been able to successfully install a number of systems and given people who could not have a yield monitor for those combines before, we've now given them a yield monitor. They can of course tie that into their John Deere system and collect yield data. That's really cool how that's come together and we are just at the start of that really, but I see a lot of opportunity.

Tony: Again, through both of those success stories it is really awesome to hear the types of technology and solutions that Greentronics is bringing to specialty crops. A place where technology traditionally hasn't been, where can people go, who can they talk to to learn more about the Greentronics products?

Bill: We do our best with a reasonably quality website. There's a dealer map on that website so you can find out where our dealers are, who you might contact to find out more details. Of course, you're always welcome to send an e-mail to [email protected] That actually comes to me, and I'll do my best to answer all the questions you might have. You can call us direct, the phone number is on our website, and you can talk to any one of our dealers. Certainly, reach out to Richard, if you're in his area. He is fantastic, knows everything about our products and can help you. I think those are the most typical ones. We do a lot of advertising. Read our ads in all the different publications and follow us on Twitter. That would be much appreciated.

Tony: Richard, where can people go to learn more about BishTec solutions?

Richard: bishtec.com, it's B-I-S-H-T-E-C.com. That's where they can learn about more of those solutions. A lot of people need certain custom solutions or custom electronics that have gone out of date, or they want a new way of doing something. I like that stuff. I eat it up. They can give give me a call or look up Richard Bishop or bishtec.com and I'll be happy to talk to them.

Tony: Great. I just want to thank both Bill and Richard for sitting down today, talking about the solutions that Greentronics has and then focusing on that RiteYield. It's a product that I'm really excited about. Thanks again guys for doing this.

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