Nitrogen fertilizer is a key tool in crop production. But producers walk a tightrope to apply it efficiently.
They need enough to boost yield, but fertilizer is expensive and overuse can harm the environment. Determining how much nitrate is available to crops is challenging, making precise application a struggle.
To help farmers navigate this dilemma, Husker graduate student Jackson Stansell launched Sentinel Fertigation. The Nebraska Innovation Campus-based company offers a real-time, imagery-based software and management framework that empowers farmers to make data-backed decisions about if and when to apply nitrogen.
“Farmers don’t want to apply nitrogen unnecessarily, especially when prices are as high as they are right now,” said Stansell, a biological systems engineering student and company CEO. “What they’ve really liked about our solution is the ability to have data that backs that decision and gives them confidence.”
The company’s N-Time Fertigation Management System, or N-Time FMS, is a web application that quantifies crops’ nitrogen status. It recommends how much fertilizer farmers need to apply through their irrigation systems throughout the growing season. Aerial imagery is the backbone of the software. Based on near-daily satellite information, N-Time FMS gauges crop conditions and predicts optimal timing for nitrogen application.
The platform’s focus on timing is unique. Other products recommend ideal rates of nitrogen to apply across a field, but that requires farmers to use variable rate technology, which is expensive and requires expertise.
“We’re trying to meet farmers where they are and allow them to improve nitrogen use efficiency through the timing aspect, which they have control over,” Stansell said.
Stansell capitalized on university resources to form his company. NUtech Ventures, the university’s commercialization affiliate, applied for patent protection for the technology and subsequently licensed it to Sentinel Fertigation. Stansell also participated in NUtech’s Nebraska Introduction to Customer Discovery program, which connected him to the local entrepreneurship community.
He also participated in The Combine Incubator, a NIC-based initiative providing innovators with business know-how and networking support.
In February 2022, Sentinel Fertigation was the first recipient of a $25,000 investment from the Husker Venture Fund, a student-led initiative supporting Nebraska-owned early-stage startups. In May 2022, the company announced an initial $1.2 million round of seed funding.
Nebraska news release: Student’s fertigation startup awarded first Husker Venture Fund investment
Nebraska news release: Stansell’s innovative fertigation start-up featured on RFD-TV
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