3. Precision Agriculture Business
A new business initiative as experienced by Steve Ernst
and documented by him on June 1, 2016.
This time that I spent working
was one of the most exciting and scary times in my career at
Univac, Sperry, Unisys, Loral, and Lockheed Martin. In 1994
Unisys Corporation (later Lockheed Martin) initiated a number
entrepreneurial activities into new business areas in hope of
stemming the continued loss of business in the defense division.
One of these was the “Precision Agriculture Business Segment”.
This segment was able to establish partnerships with
three agriculture equipment manufacturers and commodity
operations: namely Ag-Chem Equipment Corporation of Minnetonka,
Minnesota; New Holland Corporation of New Holland, Pennsylvania;
and Cargill of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Since then the Precision
Agriculture Business Segment has moved from a start-up to a
position of established sales and a back-log within Lockheed
One product made it into
production; AgNav for Ag-Chem with multiple production lot
builds. Other products that were in various stages of
development were a Yield Monitor, Forage Harvester Knife
Sharpener Sensor, Soil Analysis System, Weed Imaging System,
plus some other concepts were evaluated. Additional products are
in development with these partners. Revenues in calendar year
1996 were approximately $1 million and were in the low seven (7)
figures for the next two years. The team remained in the
break-even mode until approximately 1998, when it was closed.
The multiple mergers, the desire to move the needle (revenue) to
the eight (8) figure range, and a developing cyclical
agriculture down-turn all took their toll.
The team began in Eagan,
but moved to Minnetonka to be co-located in the same building,
but separate offices with one of the customers.
This was close to a new business start-up situation as
possible. We had to work with Eagan contracts and finance, but
otherwise were independent. The on-site team consisted of eight
people. Product build was done by a contract manufacturer. The
concept was to leverage the team’s sensor processing and
integration skills and apply that knowledge to a new market
domain, “Precision Agriculture”. What we lacked was market and
distribution, and a good understanding of the product definition
and performance requirements. Therefore, the model we developed
was for Lockheed Martin to retain the design and manufacturing
rights and the partner to retain exclusive marketing and
distribution rights. Each partner contributed one-half of the
A unique opportunity was
available to participate in the newly expanding precision
agriculture market by capitalizing on the ability to develop
products using recently available cost effective electronics
technology. The precision agriculture market was moving to the
next stage of growth where the major agriculture equipment
manufacturers desired to participate more directly with
discriminating technologies. The major agriculture equipment
manufacturers tend to be focused on the “metal bending” aspects
of the agricultural products because of historical and skills
issues. Therefore, they need to reach out to augment their
capabilities with electronics systems capabilities. The type of
sensors we brought to the table were new to this application
space. Such as: lasers, microwaves, multispectral imagery,
spectroscopy, GPS, IMUs, and associated sophisticated signal
Lockheed Martin was
awarded the ASAE 50 Award for AgNav 1996: “AgNav Global
Positioning System, AgNav is the first robust
non-differential navigation system to be provided in the arena
of precision farming.” We also received positive press in the NY
Times for turning swords into plowshares. Numerous patents were
granted for our revolutionary applications.
In retrospect it takes
more time to establish a business and we were definitely ahead
of our time. Precision Agriculture is now mainstream in farming
and continuing to grow. Another lesson learned is to have a
business model that matches the customer set and market that you
are pursuing. We had the right business model and it was not a
defense business model.
4. Flight Reservation Systems
These systems started in the 50s with the File Computer. It
would be great if someone would write about the early days
of these systems. We do have one story about flight
reservations - it is based out of England and was our
'Article for the Month' for November 2013.
London Development Center by Arlyn Solberg. 494s, 1108s,
Exec 8, Airline Reservation Systems, and Minnesotans
overseas are all part of this brief history. Unfortunately,
Arlyn has passed away.
What do your customers have to say? Consider using some space to tell the
story of the business through your customers' voices. Their word is more powerful than anything you can say for yourself.