Ag Leader Seeks CIRAS to Help New Ideas Grow

Ag Leader technology in use in the cab of a tractor.

The best part about the CIRAS innovation process, Mike Myers believes, is that it makes it easier for his company to quickly find the ideas that help customers most.

Myers is marketing development manager at Ag Leader Technology, an Ames company created 28 years ago to help farmers better monitor their fields. Today, precision agriculture is a wide-ranging industry with competition fueled by venture capitalists and start-ups looking to profit from helping farmers manage data.

Now, more than ever, Ag Leader needs to be focused on the right ideas.

That’s why the company asked CIRAS to help with the creation of a more formalized innovation process in mid- 2018. Results from that process include several promising new products in development, more than 10 pending patents, and large amounts of time and money saved by recognizing shortcomings early.

“Sometimes, it’s best to stop,” Myers said. “You can look out and say, ‘Man, that’s a great idea, but the technology doesn’t exist.’ Or, ‘The technology exists, but we’re not going to make enough money.’”

“If we stop now, we’re not pouring resources into refining things for six months and then saying, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’”

Ag Leader Technology production line.

CIRAS project manager Paul Gormley said research shows that a formal innovation process can help companies turn an entire staff into innovators. “If you somehow can develop ways to harness the power of everyone’s minds to think that way…, then that becomes part of a system,” he said.

Innovation is just one piece of the strong support system linking Ag Leader and Iowa State University. CIRAS in recent years has helped the company test metals, analyze seized motors, and explore materials for potential new products. CIRAS also is working with Ag Leader to help the company understand the regulations and the requirements for selling in foreign markets.

More broadly, Ag Leader regularly uses Iowa State College of Engineering seniors to tackle problems via capstone design projects and hires students as interns and employees.

Myers views CIRAS as a valuable resource.

“Sometimes you encounter really hard problems,” Myers said. “It’s nice to have somebody you can call who’s either dealt with it before or has the connections to say, ‘We don’t know, but we can get you an answer.’”

For more information, contact Derek Thompson at or 515-419-2163.


A version of this article was published in the Summer 2020 edition of CIRAS News. To read more of that edition or others, please explore elsewhere on our website.