KINGMAN, Kan. – Ethan Eck remembers dumping agricultural chemicals into a farm sprayer as being kind of a pain in the rear.
If you’re doing it a few dozen times a day, and you’re supposed to rinse out and dispose of the jugs, too — and an expensive machine sits idling for the minutes it takes to complete those chores — then it’s more than an inconvenience. It’s an entrepreneurial opportunity.
That’s certainly what Eck and partner Ralph Lagergren hope. Eck, 23, invented the Chem-blade, a stainless steel gadget that fits inside the plastic induction tank used to mix expensive farm chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides for farm sprayers. A farmer jams a plastic 2 ½-gallon jug of herbicide onto the gadget’s blades, which slice open the bottom, emptying the jug. A water jet then rinses the open jug.
Working out of a spacious metal building on the Eck family farm, north of this Wichita-area town, Eck and Lagergren have already developed an upgrade, a powered version called the Chem-blade ES that received national attention earlier this year at the Commodity Classic farm show in Phoenix.
In the course of a day, the device might give farmers back 30 minutes, they said.
So far Eck has sold about 500 of the original Chem-blade units, at about $550 each. They are hunting for licensees to manufacture the Chem-blade ES, so a unit is probably a year away from the market.
Lagergren has been guiding Eck on how to move his invention beyond a homemade gadget that’s sold out of the back of a pickup. The two say that farmers’ time has become so valuable that a farmer will spend a few thousand dollars for a gadget that empties a jug in half a second and then rinses it out. It ensures all of the chemical is used, that the farmer doesn’t get any on his hands or face, and that he’s not violating environmental rules.