Melinda Dittmer is the COO of Nexyst 360—a new midwest-based startup developing revolutionary storage, distribution, and product preservation systems with the goal of harvesting and transporting crops, like grain, with 100% traceability back to the field. In her role, she is helping to innovate new technologies that could help to reduce the costs of farming, bring crops to market, and trace food products back to their source(s), all with the ultimate aim of making farms and the whole agriculture supply chain more profitable.
“The process we use to store, transport, and market crops has been the same process for over 150 years,” Melinda says. She and her colleagues are working to change that reducing the expensive infrastructure on farms through the entire supply chain and making these tools more flexible and more mobile. In short, Nexyst 360 uses cloud computing support to create a more adaptable and secure supply chain, eliminating the need to build the expensive brick-and-mortar infrastructure of grain bins, bunkers, bags and silos.
Living Through the 1980s Farm Crisis
Growing up on a farm in Chariton, Iowa in the 1980s, Melinda lived through the worst of the Farm Crisis first hand. She remembers tombstones amassing every week in the town’s square, each one representing a farm that had been repossessed and auctioned off. Commodity booms and busts and widespread droughts converged, making it the worst time in agriculture—both economically and environmentally—since the Great Depression.
These desperate conditions took an enormous emotional toll on thousands of farmers, many of whom took their own lives when confronted with the burden of debt and the devastating losses of their land, their income, and their livelihood. Melinda remembers overhearing adults consoling one another in the church yard, banding together to console their neighbors who had lost everything. It left a lasting impression on her.
From Farm to Startup
Melinda moved from Chariton to Des Moines to attend college at Drake University. Like many young Iowans of her generation, she did not think she would ever go back to farming. But soon after college, Melinda was married and bought a farm and was then recruited by John Deere Financial. Melinda worked with some of the largest farms across the US during her 21 years at John Deere and saw firsthand the challenges that farmers have as they try to scale their business and try to remain profitable.
Over the last three years, Melinda got involved in an all-women angel investing group as a member manager. This gave her the opportunity to work with startups from many industries and her lifetime passion for entrepreneurship and innovation continued to grow. Less than a year ago, the founder of Nexyst 360 persuaded her to leave John Deere Financial and join his startup as COO. She was convinced by the vision of harvesting and transporting grain without having to build the expensive infrastructure of grain bins and silos and significantly reducing farmer expenses while increasing their market reach for their crops.
The Farm of the Future
Melinda thinks a lot about different approaches to agriculture from a supply chain standpoint. While it’s difficult to envision Midwest farms without silos, she insists that there’s a different, better way to do this work. Think about what the mobile phone did do the landline and you can envision all of the benefits of mobility in agriculture.
Reducing infrastructure on the farm, giving farmers a broader market to sell their crops into, and growing alternative foods to meet growing consumer demands for everything from organics to specialty crops are all important pieces of this complex puzzle. This kind of innovation and mobility could completely change the economics of farming.