Regina AgTech Firm Solves Age-Old Problem
By Bruce Johnstone
For Economic Development Regina
Like many companies in the agtech sector, IntraGrain Technologies Inc. was born of the need to find a solution to an age-old problem, in this case, crop spoilage due to excessive heat and moisture while in storage.
The problem of spoilage is a multi-million-dollar headache for farmers. “In Canada, it’s estimated that around five per cent (of the crop) is lost. It can equate to $750 million to $1 billion a year,” said Kyle Folk, founder of IntraGrain, in a recent interview.
But Kyle learned first-hand about the problem when his family farm at Holdfast, about 100 km northwest of Regina, suffered a significant loss of stored canola about a decade ago. “My dad was going to load a semi with canola and I went out there to help him to put the auger in the bin.” But, instead of a “swishing noise,’’ they heard an ominous “clunk,’’ indicating that the canola had gone bad.
“At that time, I had no idea that spoilage was even a thing,’’ he said. “I thought, once you got it into the bin, that’s it.’’ “That, to me, was a big eye-opener,’’ Kyle said, adding that, at the time, there was no insurance coverage available for damage to stored grain. To make matters worse, there was no way of monitoring the grain in the bin to determine if there was a problem, short of physically inspecting it every day.
“The one thing my father said to me was, ‘Every time I think of checking it, I’m driving away from the yard with somewhere to be’.’’
So Kyle came up with the idea for Bin-Sense, a way of remotely monitoring your grain bins for overheating, an early warning sign of spoilage. “We started out just wanting to build a wireless, temperature-monitoring system that you could check from your (cell) phone or laptop.”
Of course, IntraGrain, which was formed in 2011, has added other capabilities to the Bin-Sense line of products, including moisture monitoring and fan controller systems. “For the most part, we stayed 100 per cent true to what the initial idea was. That goes to show there was a niche in the market. There was a need.’’
Further proof of the success of the product was Kyle being named EY (Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing for the Prairie Region for 2017. The following year, Saskatoon-based Calian Group acquired IntraGrain after serving as the Regina-based company’s manufacturing partner for five years.
Another thing that has changed at IntraGrain is Kyle Folk is no longer with the company. He left the company to pursue other interests in early November. His brother, Tanner, has since taken over the reins of IntraGrain as CEO.
And Tanner Folk believes that the Calian acquisition gave IntraGrain “access to technology’’ and “knowledge base’’ the company wouldn’t have had otherwise. “The biggest influence (Calian) has had is the capability that comes with their reach. They’ve got a lot of experienced individuals in their organization. Having access to that knowledge has been hugely beneficial for us.’’
He also believes that, under Calian’s ownership, IntraGrain is well-positioned to grow along with the burgeoning agtech sector in Saskatchewan and the Regina region, in particular. “We’re located perfectly for it. There’s so much knowledge on the Prairies in the agtech industry. So the faster we can move, the better we’ll be.’’
Perhaps most gratifying to Tanner is knowing that IntraGrain is helping individual farmers, including his own family farm, avoid preventable losses due to spoilage.
“Even this year on our farm, my dad could have experienced some sort of spoilage on about 6,000 acres worth of canola. But he was able to identify a trend he knew would lead to some dockage or damage and take steps to mitigate that (damage), just because of the information being provided by our systems.’’