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Published April 06 2012

FarmVille ... for real! Tech entrepreneur creates virtual farm manager to aid farmers

FARGO - Growing up as a farm kid, Ryan Raguse saw firsthand the headaches that can go along with trying to keep an ag operation organized. Now, as a technology entrepreneur, he believes he can help soothe that pain.

Raguse is involved in the Fargo-based Virtual Farm Manager system. When it launches, the system will let farmers remotely track the progress of fieldwork via GPS, share field notes with hired hands in the field, and use smartphones to record the varieties of seeds and the type of chemicals used in the field, and more.

“It solves an organization problem and a communication problem,” said Jake Joraanstad, lead project manager for Virtual Farm Manager and one of Raguse’s business partners. “It can go back and look at year-to-year, field-to-field and location-to-location comparisons and look at what’s been done to those crops.”

The system, which VFM plans to release April 15, stores data remotely. This allows information to be synchronized and shared on cellphones, desktop computers and laptops. The mobile side of the system will be available for Android operating systems first, and later for the iPhone.

If all this technology sounds out of place on the farm, then you probably haven’t been to the farm in a while. Agriculture has gone digital.

“Farmers are high-tech,” said John Nowatzki, an agriculture machine systems specialist with North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Here’s one example of how technology has changed the landscape of agriculture: While harvesting crops, farmers can collect data and link it with a location through GPS to show the yields in different areas of their fields.

Farmers are embracing what mobile devices can offer.

“I think that a year ago, it would have been very unusual for a farmer even to be making use of apps for any part of their farming, let alone to help make decisions or to collect data,” Nowatzki said. “But now they are. So it’s moving quickly.”

Virtual Farm Manager is the brainchild of 22-year-old Raguse.

“I want to make life smoother for the farmers,” he said.

Raguse grew up on a family farm near Fairmount, N.D., and still does some farming. Along with Joraanstad, and three others, he’s part owner of Myriad Devices, a mobile consulting and custom development company in Fargo.

That background put the North Dakota State University accounting grad “in the unique position” of knowing both farming and technology, and he went out and found investors for his idea. Virtual Farm Manager is “the first farmer-owned and operated agricultural technology company making its home in North Dakota,” according to the company.

Raguse is one of a collective of individuals who own VFM, which contracts with Myriad Devices to develop the service.

One of the goals of the system is to keep it simple. Company-provided screenshots from the smartphone app interface show clean, straightforward displays. Raguse wants the system to be “so simple and intuitive that grandpa can pick it up and use it” with

no problem.

The cost for the VFM service is $65 per month, with the first month offered at $1. The mobile app itself is free to download. To preregister and to receive notice about when the service is up, visit www.virtualfarmmanager.com.

Myriad and VFM hope to continue developing the product. Raguse would like to see VFM expand to become a complete farm management tool, including functions such as accounting and marketing.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734