MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After pitching in the final four, selected from a group of national applicants, Kopper Kutter was voted by a panel of farmers as the winner of the first Innova $100,000 Row Crop Challenge powered by AgLaunch as part of the Farm Journal AgTechExpo last week.

Founded by three farmers in Kansas, Kopper Kutter makes ARRO (Alternate Rotary Rowcrop Option) head conversion kits for corn heads enabling harvesting of additional row crops including sorghum, milo, sunflowers and millet, among others.

As part of the Innova Challenge, four new ag tech startups competed for a chance to receive a $100,000 venture capital equity investment from Innova Ag Innovation Fund IV, a USDA certified Rural Business Investment Company whose investors are 8 Farm Credit banks. Teams pitched their company in front of an expert panel of farmers who determined which team received the investment.

AgLaunch’s interactive exhibits at the show included the AgLaunch Startup Station, the Emerging Technologies Isle, and featured the Innova $100,000 Row Crop Challenge, as well as demonstrations from more than a dozen startup companies with innovations related to automation, robotics, soil analysis, input efficiency, new equipment and farm management tools. These startups have received support from AgLaunch through various programs including the nationally-recognized AgLaunch365 accelerator and field trials through the AgLaunch farmer network. AgLaunch’s approach is yielding successful startup companies that are focused on the real needs of farmers.

Finalists for the Innova $100,000 Row Crop Challenge powered by AgLaunch were:

  • Kopper Kutter: Kopper Kutter, LLC offers ARRO (Alternator Rotary Rowcrop Option) conversion kits for corn heads so that they can reliably harvest sorghum, sunflowers, and many other crops.
  • Rogo (formerly AgNext): The SmartCore by Rogo (formerly AgNext) uses a fully- autonomous robot that collects and packages soil samples with complete depth-, pattern- and location-consistency to give farmers more accurate soil data so they can make more profitable fertilizer decisions.
  • SioTeX: SioTeX is an eco-friendly specialty chemical manufacturer that makes a pure biogenic amorphous silica from rice hulls. Agricultural customers use the silica as a high- quality soil amendment to protect plants from mites, fungus, and stress and to increase crop yields.
  • Smart Farm Systems: Smart Farm Systems provides farmers with a precision irrigation monitoring and control system that allows them to apply just the right amount of water at just the right time on a field-by-field basis, conserving resources, improving crop yields and profitability.

Kopper Kutter ARRO

“The row-crop heads used for harvesting sorghum haven’t been updated in 40 years,” says Alan Van Nahmen, head of product development and marketing manager for Kopper Kutter. “Because row-crop heads kind of went by the way side when corn belt farmers went to narrower row soybeans. Most of those soy beans these days are harvested with flex headers running on the head.”

He adds, “For sorghum farmers, that leaves us harvesting our sorghum with straight cut head. But unfortunately, high winds out there, or rain, or snow storm kind of like we've had this year can blow a lot of the sorghum down laying flat on the ground. If you use the old row-crop heads pick it up, or you end up cutting it off right at the base of the stalk and taking all that in through the machine. We needed a better way to harvest it.”

The solution Kopper Kutter came up was to create a conversion kit so corn heads could be used to harvest crops like sorghum. “Corn is king in this country. The major manufacturers all know if they're going to sell old combines they better have a very good corn head to go with it,” Van Nahmen says.

Standard corn heads provide greater reliability including enclosed oil bath chain drives and gear cases, individual row unit slip clutches, rugged poly center shields and divider points, and reliable header height control systems. Down or lodged crop such as milo can be picked up and gathered into header. Since the whole crop is not run through the combine, there is less grain loss, less MOG, and harvesting ground speed can be maintained in lodged crop areas. Cutting and stubble height can be adjusted to leave 12 inches or more of the lower nutrient rich stalk on the ground. This reduces wind and water erosion. Corn heads can be converted back to be used or resold as a standard corn head. Kits are available for popular corn heads. No permanent modifications needed.

“We’ve had requests to do kits for some of the shortline heads, so that is the next step,” Van Nahmen says. “We know we need to expand our market penetration.”

Kopper Kutter is accepting dealers and is working through ShieldAg to distribute ARRO, Van Nahmen says.