By: Pat Rediger
As Trevor Scherman and his father Pat combined their fields near North Battleford, they became increasingly concerned about the amount of crop loss they were suffering. There’s a fine line between how fast the combine can go and how much crop gets left in the field. In the case of canola, for example, farmers can lose up to five bushels per acre during harvest, and if canola is worth $10 a bushel, the lost revenue can be significant.
The Schermans didn’t have a lot of faith in the loss monitors that come as standard equipment on combines, and even less in the sales staff that encouraged them to run at higher speeds with the higher horsepower despite the impact that could have on proper threshing. They recognized that threshing speed was dependent on numerous factors, including yield, crop conditions and weather conditions. They wanted real live field data to make the best decisions possible for their operation.
And, as so often happens in Saskatchewan, the Schermans began experimenting in their farm shop to find a better way. They eventually developed a battery-operated drop pan to measure crop losses. Their system connects to the underside of almost any combine using magnets. With the chopper and chaff spreaders disengaged and the combine moving at the desired speed and settings, the operator uses a small remote key fob to release the magnets and drop the pan.
After removing the chaff and straw by hand and with screen, collected seeds go into a gauge. The reading on the gauge cross-referenced to the cut width will tell you the losses in bushels per acre. From that point onward you can adjust the monitor to suit your comfort level. It seemed like the ideal solution.
“People saw what we were doing, and they were like, ‘can you build me one?’ So then it kind of took off from there,” said Trevor.
The initial plan was to build four more units and then hopefully sell about 20 by the end of the year. Marketing was meant to be fairly simple – make an announcement on Twitter, ask a few friends to retweet it, and then wait back for the results.
“I was literally at my daughter’s baseball game when my phone started blowing up, and I’m taking orders on Twitter. We sold 20 the first day,” recalled Trevor.
They weren’t quite ready for that result. In fact, they received orders from as far away as Australia, Brazil, France and Paraguay. They didn’t have suppliers in place for the volume required, and they scrambled to fill orders. It wasn’t a sophisticated business system either – they received the orders, built the product, and shipped them out with an invoice.
Fortunately, they had planned for the company to grow, albeit not that fast. They incorporated and applied for patents before they began marketing, so the proper paperwork was in place. Trevor had been working at another job in the agricultural industry, but decided to farm full time now that the ScherGain business has taken off.
The company has remained a family-run operation since its inception. Michelle, Trevor’s wife who he refers to as the “backbone of the business,” has an ag economics degree and is well versed in how to manage this exponential growth. She handles the financial side, managing trade shows, along with all the orders and shipping of sales and the paperwork that goes with it. Her training and skills have allowed the company to grow with minimal debt, while forging ahead in new markets.
The kids also help out when they can, and Pat does most of the assembling. Trevor handles marketing, trade shows and other business issues.
Since crop losses are a concern around the world, Trevor has now placed an emphasis on international sales. After working at various positions in the agricultural sector, he had a network of contacts that were willing to help him promote the product.
“Entrepreneurs always want to help entrepreneurs,” he said. “That’s a huge takeaway with what we’ve done. My dad said, ‘what do you mean you just ask them?’ but that’s all I did. They were very willing to help.”
One of the entrepreneurs who offered assistance was Trevor Thiessen who owns Redekop Manufacturing in Saskatoon. When ScherGain needed to ship products to Australia, it was Thiessen who provided advice on the best shipping methods and helped facilitate the transaction. There are other companies that have helped by offering ScherGrain products as draw prizes at their trade show booths.
“We have found that people will do this and do that if you just ask. Other entrepreneurs really want to help you succeed,” said Trevor.
ScherGrain has worked with STEP on developing its international distributor network. After attending the Agritechnica Farm Show in Germany, the company reached an agreement with a European distributor, and Trevor has high hopes to further develop that market because of the high density of farmers.
ScherGrain has reached distribution agreements with companies in the United States and Australia. It fulfils most of its own orders in Canada. Trevor has determined that he doesn’t require a large marketing budget to get attention in these countries.
“It may be a low-tech, inexpensive system, but it has sure made a lot of growers a lot of money.” - Trevor Scherman
“Twitter is built for agriculture,” he explained. “Someone can ask you a question, and you can provide an answer real fast. One of our marketing consultants said to throw the idea up on Twitter. If it’s good, then you’ll win. If it’s bad, then you’ll be crucified, and she was right. People videotaped it, and put it up on social media. They were selling it for me, and I didn’t have to take any ads out.”
One of his Twitter posts resulted in 18 Italian farmers visiting his farm during their Canadian tour. His posts caught the attention of those organizing the tour and Italians wanted to find out more about the invention.
Trevor has been told farmers are saving anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000 by using his system, and that proves to him the need to continue to press ahead. He is now a speaker at various agriculture conferences around the world. His speaking engagements have ranged from how the system works to a group of soybean producers in the United Kingdom to demonstrating how producers in Romania can reduce their canola losses.
“It may be a low-tech, inexpensive system, but it has sure made a lot of growers a lot of money,” he said.
For more information on the ScherGrain Solution System, visit www.schergain.ca.