In 1996, Ben Brutlag was a 9-year-old bundle of questions as he walked in his father’s shadow and soaked up the lessons of farm life on the heavy black soil of the Red River Valley. The precocious farm boy helped his father build a 36-row planter and a 90' sprayer well before the implements were commercially available in the area around Wendell, Minn. Hands of the father and heart of the boy, the necessity of innovation took a steely grip on Brutlag.
Nature or nurture, Brutlag, 29, is a prime example of agriculture’s new breed: a mix of dirt, metal, digital technology, marketing and analytics.
Bob Ehlers, owner of Barrett Farm Supply, says Brutlag has a phenomenal ability to combine technology across different agricultural facets: “Ben has exceptional intelligence with a particular passion for electronics. He understood GPS, auto-steer and variable rate before they were really on the market.”
Solving Everyday Problems. As a precision ag consultant with Barrett Farm Supply in Grant County, Brutlag is heavily immersed in agronomy and still has a foot on the family farm. He also maintains a private consulting company, Yield Innovations. Since graduating with an ag economics degree from North Dakota State University, Brutlag has carved a trail of innovation, beginning with Easy-Out, a tractor pulling system composed of cables that attach to the front drawbar. He took Easy-Out from design theory to commercialization in 2010, and it remains on the market.
The simplest part of a new product is the initial construction, according to Brutlag. Fine-tuning, fast-tracking and mass production come next, followed by the hardest phase: selling.
“Most of us coming from farms don’t have any feel for marketplace sales experience,” he says. “Easy-Out shaped me and made things a lot easier the next time.”
In 2011, Brutlag worked to help develop Field Tracer, app software. As a precision ag specialist, soil sampling (especially training assistants on complicated software) took up a huge chunk of time. With several friends, Brutlag started Dirt Tech, a company built around soil sampling and rock marking software. The apps were simple and effective, but the upkeep required a concentrated, continuous effort from Brutlag.
“Apps require constant updating and care,” Brutlag explains.
In 2016, Brutlag jumped back to equipment innovation with Yield Flexx, lightweight sidedressing equipment to optimize nutrient placement that was jointly developed with Barrett Farm Supply. “It’s been a very successful product,” Brutlag says. “I try to learn what is going to be needed in agriculture next and stay ahead of the curve.”
“It’s a mix of passion and ingenuity that makes Ben unique,” says producer and custom harvester Lance Johnson, who also owns AmeriFab, the company manufacturing Yield Flexx. “The survivors in farming will be innovators and diversifiers.”
Brutlag is an agricultural renaissance man in 2017, but a wave of young producers will follow.
“Today’s 10-year-olds are totally immersed in digital technology,” he says. “Someday, they’ll be the ones taking over the farm.”