Rob Saik won’t divulge how much Trimble paid to acquire Agri-Trend, but it’s a safe bet he walked away with more than he had when he founded the company in 1997.
“With a Chevette and a soil probe and a $35,000 credit card from the Royal Bank I started Agri-Trend. I had nothing,” he said.
Saik, who is a professional agrologist, quit his job at Tiger Industries and started Agri-Trend because he was upset with the way farmers were making fertilizer decisions.
He developed a soil sampling process and a 10-step method for interpreting samples and began teaching the system to farmers.
“I remember I paid $9,500 for my first computer projector. It was a huge unit and I used it to do training and seminars and stuff. That began to create (farmer) interest. It began to pull them into my model,” said Saik.
The next project was to develop a strategic crop plan that incorporated soil analytics, production costs and other factors for individual farms. He amassed a network of coaches to help farmers develop individual plans for their operations.
Today, the company has over 200 specialists working across Canada and the United States, including 110 coaches. A team of senior coaches, which is largely made up of retired scientists from government and academia, supports the coaches.
The company also has marketing and business management coaches and a farm management data platform to tie everything together.
The coaches are not employees. They all operate independent businesses. The revenue they generate on behalf of Agri-Trend is shared with the firm.
However, Agri-Trend does employ about 50 people who work on the executive team and in the accounting, administration, sales and marketing and data programming departments.
The company works with thousands of farmer clients who farm millions of acres.
Trimble is purchasing all of Agri-Trend’s assets. It is one of the world’s leading navigation and global positioning system companies with an agriculture division that specializes in precision agriculture products.
Saik said the Agri-Trend brands, its leaders, workforce and business model will all remain intact.
“Trimble is interested in what we built and they don’t want to change it. They like what they bought here,” he said.
Darren Howie, one of the original employees of the firm, will take over from Saik as general manager of the company. Saik will be in charge of global business development.
He is pleased the company will soon have the financial clout to become a bigger player in global agriculture once the deal closes later this month.
“That factored into the decision (to sell), by the way, because I wanted to see Agri-Trend continue on,” said Saik.
“My children personally aren’t interested in the business and I never built it for them, but if you think about your business as your child, you want that child to grow up and to do big things.”
Saik is the largest shareholder in Agri-Trend but not the only one. All of the shareholders have some sort of tie to the company, such as being employees.
He is excited about the potential of linking Agri-Trend’s expertise in agronomy, marketing and precision agriculture with Trimble’s engineering expertise.
“They have just a treasure trove of technologies that are inside their tool shed that we can just hardly wait to get our hands on,” said Saik.
“Over the next number of years we’re going to bring back to farmers some very, very elegant solutions no matter what colour of equipment they’re running or what kind of production crops they’re growing or genetics they’re using.”
He attributes a lot of Agri-Trend’s success to that brand-agnostic approach to offering agronomy, marketing and farm management advice rather than being tied to certain products or companies.