Michael Ott – Rantizo – Ep 06
Michael Ott, Founder & CEO at Rantizo
In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Michael Ott from Rantizo, who we will be talking to about how their drone spraying technology is addressing both farmer and business needs while providing a more accurate and sustainable way of handling field operations.
[00:00:00] Alex Mospanyuk: Hi there. My name is Alex Mospanyuk and welcome to “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain.
Today’s guest is Michael Ott, who is the CEO and founder of Rantizo. Rantizo is an award-winning precision AgTech company that is revolutionising in season field operations with drone applications.
This actually in return reduces water wastage and crop damage. It’s really exciting technology, and we can’t wait for you to hear this episode.
So with no further delays, let’s get started.
Michael. Hi, how are you today?
[00:00:30] Michael Ott: Fantastic. How’s it going?
[00:00:31] Alex Mospanyuk: I’m doing really, really well. Where are you currently?
[00:00:34] Michael Ott: I’m sitting at Rantizo global headquarters.
[00:00:37] Alex Mospanyuk: Oh, that is so cool. All right. Well, before we get into it, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell me a little bit more about yourself, what you do, and then while you’re at it, maybe a fun or interesting fact about you that not many people know.
[00:00:49] Michael Ott: Sure. I’m Michael Lott. I’m the CEO of Rantizo, we’re a drone-spraying company based in Iowa city. A fun fact that most people don’t know. I’m actually a chemist. I have a master’s degree in chemistry. Uh, but I’ve been working in agribusiness for quite some time, doing some venture capital work. And now on the other side of the table, running a startup, that’s turning into a pretty good size corporation.
[00:01:14] Alex Mospanyuk: That’s incredible. And so can I ask, how did you transfer from chemistry over into AgTech?
[00:01:19] Michael Ott: I went to work for a hedge fund right out of grad school. So I always knew that I wanted to be more in the finance and business side, but with a pretty strong tech uh, focus. So always looking at interesting technologies and then trying to figure out how do you make a business out of it? That’s really been the whole focus of my career.
And I’ve been working in agricultural technology for 15, 20 years now. So I’m close to getting the hang of it.
[00:01:48] Alex Mospanyuk: Look, I have no doubt about that. That’s incredible. And so I see that you’ve been involved in a few different AgTech startups. I looked through your profile and your history, but tell us a little bit more about Rantizo, the current one you’re at. What’s the purpose, and where does it operate within the supply chain?
[00:02:03] Michael Ott: So we sell a turnkey package to ag retailers that gives them everything that they need for legal and safe drone spraying. So that’s the hardware, software, a trailer to get you into the field, insurance, permitting, uh, everything that you need from invoicing, an app that will give you directions to where your jobs are, track the weather, everything else there, so it’s a turnkey package that we’re selling and we’re expanding pretty rapidly.
We’re now permitted in 22 states with over 50 contractors nationwide, spanning from California to Pennsylvania.
[00:02:42] Alex Mospanyuk: That’s so exciting. And so when was this founded originally?
[00:02:45] Michael Ott: Uh, beginning of 2018 was when we first got everything going.
[00:02:49] Alex Mospanyuk: Got it. And what would you say it is that separates you and your technology from your competitors?
[00:02:55] Michael Ott: So we’re actually out in the field doing this legally. That’s a big differentiator, we’re also the most productive drones under 55 pounds, so when you’re below 55 pounds, I can train you or pretty much anyone in the audience in two days and you’ll be up and ready to go, you’ll fly under Rantizo licenses permits, insurance, et cetera.
So we’d get it up and going really quickly. And that’s been a real big driver for our ag retailers.
[00:03:23] Alex Mospanyuk: Interesting. And so what is potentially the biggest challenge that you have with your product right now? And how are you looking to overcome it?
[00:03:31] Michael Ott: Yeah, it’s uh, getting usage in the field where people think like, “oh, this is kind of a cool toy”, and they’re used to drones being, you know, the size of a medium pizza and a fun thing that you’d fly around with your friends and maybe crash. Ours are pretty substantial, uh, about four feet wide on the drone part with a boom that’s 14 feet wide.
So people just seeing it. “Oh, that’s kind of a cool toy”, and like, “No, no. This is a tool that you use in your field. It’s actually a tool that handles itself”.
So the drone will fly itself out. So just kind of correcting those perceptions. This is some of the challenge.
[00:04:08] Alex Mospanyuk: Yeah, absolutely. And so what pain points does your product address in the current market in terms of tech and sustainability?
[00:04:14] Michael Ott: Yeah. It’s a lot of times we can’t get into a field. A drone is a great opportunity there. So it’s been raining for two days and you’ve got, you know, some insect chowing away, at whatever your crop is. We’ve done that in the cannabis example, and a brussel sprout example, or you know corn, soybeans, your standard commodity crops as well.
So, those are the types of use cases that we love to address, when nobody else can get in there. I love rain. Obviously we need it to help things grow, but, uh, usually when it rains, you can’t get in the field.
And I remember we were doing a ah startup showcase in Memphis with a bunch of other technology companies and it just poured rain, it was a sloppy disaster of a field.
And no one else was actually doing anything in the field that had robots that were zipping around kind of on the road but not in the field.
And we’re just flying over the crops and we’re spraying water that, you know, that really drove the message home to people like you literally can’t get to the field of anything else and here we are spraying away.
[00:05:19] Alex Mospanyuk: That’s incredible. And so what is it that people seem to misunderstand? I know you mentioned that they usually look at drones as just fun um techie things, but are there any other blurry lines and how people just don’t understand your technology and then even accepting it in a way?
[00:05:32] Michael Ott: We love to spray portions of the field and that leads to a huge sustainability edge. So, in a field where you may have. A insect problem in one part, a weed problem in another, and a fertiliser deficiency say in the middle.
The typical thing would be the mix herbicide, insecticide, and fertiliser, and just spray the whole field.
So you’re spraying fertiliser on insects, you’re spraying insecticide on weeds et cetera. What we can do is actually treat portions of the field with only what’s needed. So I’ll go to where those insects are. Give them a 15% buffer because we know insects move and spray right around there.
Then we’ll go to where the weeds are, give them a 5% buffer because we know where the weeds were when we took the image, and spray exactly that area. So That’s kind of a mental shift from, well, I better spray the whole field because I don’t know when I can get in there next, because once again if it rains you can’t get in the field again.
But with what we’re doing, it’s a little bit of a brain shift to get people looking at smaller portions of the field, which is great for everyone, because then you use less inputs, there’s less runoff, there’s less problems. And all those things are a big advantage for up and down the value chain.
[00:06:53] Alex Mospanyuk: That’s amazing. And so this is an off the cuff question, but do you have any statistics around how much more efficient you’re able to be in comparison to traditional forms of farming?
[00:07:02] Michael Ott: So in terms of efficacy, we just did a soybean fungicide application. This was actually done by the Iowa Soybean Association, so it’s other people’s stats.
Showing that the drone and the tractor are basically indistinguishable. Ours looked, half a bushel better, which I just like as someone that likes to win, but statistically, they were exactly the same, but we’re able to show that they’re as efficient as a tractor spray just from a pure efficiency perspective.
And then when you look at the volume. There’s significant volume reduction. We just did a tomato application where we were spraying three rows at a time. So the tomatoes were 20 inches wide and there was 60 inches of bare ground. So we ended up spraying a quarter of the total product. We’re only spraying 20 of the 80 inches.
And so we significantly reduced the amount of product and put it exactly where it was intended to go. So that was a real good one that we figured out, you know, The exact width that we needed to spray and then had the drops on the drone at a proper height, proper angle of the fan. So we got on the spray, everything else was calculated perfectly.
And once we got it dialed in, holy cow it worked well. So we were flying dead straight rows, sprayed exactly where it was, so that was like the ideal use case, and we did really, really well on that.
[00:08:31] Alex Mospanyuk: That’s so exciting. And so what is the biggest surprise that you found working in the AgTech industry in relation to fruits and vegetables, and why was that the biggest surprise?
[00:08:39] Michael Ott: I think sometimes people will tell you a problem, and then when you provide a solution, they’re like mad, “That can’t work, we’re just gonna do it the way that we do it, whether we do it, doesn’t really solve our problem, but I’m comfortable with that.”
And that’s a thing that’s always, it always surprises me, as we hear someone, okay, you’ve got an issue with labour, you’ve got an issue with over-spray, you’ve got an issue that you can’t get in the field.
Okay. How about this? Nah, I think we’re going to use the tracktor that we’ve got.
So, that’s frustrating, but, uh, for better or worse, it does happen sometimes.
[00:09:18] Alex Mospanyuk: Yeah, I love that. I mean, I was actually having a podcast discussion with someone else about this and they were talking about the struggle of shifting people’s mindsets in terms of innovation and then accepting the innovation and not going with the way things have always been. So I think truly you and your company are paving the way forward for more AI based and more technology-based solutions.
So I think it’s more people accepting that risk and saying, okay, instead of being intimidated, let’s actually try to embrace tech innovation instead of doing what’s only ever been done.
[00:09:45] Michael Ott: Exactly. So, as we’re pitching to an ag retailer that might own six to eight million dollars of tractors, you know, to go spray multiple $500,000 units, when you say, “Hey, we’ve got something that can replace some of the things that you’re doing, really enhance that”.
Sometimes people see it as, “Oh, I made a mistake, why did we buy all this stuff that exists?”.
So it’s kind of a mentality that you have to ease people into that mindset of what you’ve got is good, here’s an improvement. And then as you get out there and we’ll slowly but surely still see, “Oh, okay. This is better and better and better”.
[00:10:23] Alex Mospanyuk: Yeah, definitely. And so are there any additional blind spots or other pain points that you’ve identified in the industry?
[00:10:30] Michael Ott: Yeah. labour is a universal problem. So that’s true in California vineyards and fruit and vegetable growers, that’s true in Midwest ag retailers. So ultimately what we’re solving everywhere as for the labour problem.
So we do that with autonomy. So the drones fly themselves, we’re working on autonomous reloading systems, so that when the drone lands, it can automatically refill and go back out, and trying to solve in every stage, or reducing the amount of people, simply because there’s not enough people to work in the field and people don’t want to be in the field, they want to be doing higher value things, and honestly they should.
[00:11:11] Alex Mospanyuk: Interesting. And so do you think that technology is the answer to this?
[00:11:15] Michael Ott: Oh, yeah, I’m a big technology guy, but definitely not technology for technology’s sake.
People using technology for ridiculous things, like my bicycle helmet is waiting on a firmware upgrade or I can’t run right now because my shoes aren’t seeing from my phone, you know?
So it’s stuff like this, like why do we have software in bicycle helmets? But we do, so that’s always a thing that I talked to our team about. Like, let’s understand the problem? let’s solve it in the best way, but we don’t need to get crazy with technology and have some super complicated way to do this when a simple solution would work much better.
So I would like, pulling buttons off, you know, reducing, reducing the complexity and make it two or three clicks, which takes a lot of work to make it simple. But once you do, it really drives the adoption, it makes it easier for people.
[00:12:11] Alex Mospanyuk: Amazing. That’s so interesting. Well, with the COVID pandemic and quarantine and everything else that’s happened in the last year, has this had a good or bad effect on your day-to-day operations?
[00:12:22] Michael Ott: Yeah. So we grew incredibly, rapidly during the Pandemic. So we were up significantly and, and maybe we would have been up more and it was like at the limit of what we can handle. So maybe it was a good thing that we had that natural break on there. Uh, we did have some issues with getting people permitted.
Like last year, you gotta pass your state pesticide applicator license in order to be ready to go. And we couldn’t get into the states. Like various states just were shut down, you know, this Corona virus pandemic, et cetera. And so we did some work, you know, talking to California and Nebraska really got ahead of the curve.
They were actually having people take their tests in cars. So we learned that and it was great. And then we would share that with other states and say, “Hey, you know, we’re getting permitted in these two states, ahead of everyone else. Here’s a practice that they’re using that we can see”.
So it was kind of fun being that somewhat clearing house of just, here’s good information, let’s pass that on. So everyone in the industry can benefit.
So, that’s been a big thing that we’ve seen and, also the pandemic, it really exacerbated the labour problem. Which, when you’re solving for that, it proved our business case, which is great, but it also made it harder to, get things shipped, get people where they need to be, et cetera, et cetera.
So that was, that was a challenge.
[00:13:47] Alex Mospanyuk: Okay. Great. Thank you. Well, when it comes to food loss, waste, and sustainability, what is the biggest area related to your role that you’re most curious about? Um, something you’re researching the most about and why?
[00:13:58] Michael Ott: Yeah. So we’re really interested in water reduction, and in pesticide reduction as well. So when you’re spraying something in the field, a lot of times, especially in a fruit and vegetable case, someone will want a 20 gallon per acre, hundred gallon per acre rate because of the perception that, that improves coverage.
And to a certain extent, that’s true. But when you got a drone that has, crop wash moving your target around, you’re able to spot right where you need to go. You can get very, very good coverage at a two to five gallon per acre rate.
And then if you look at the amount of land and the amount of water that’s there, you can look at significant reductions in water usage, which especially in areas like California, where that’s a prime problem that everyone is having.
That’s a huge saver right there. Additionally, we can look at low volume formulations, which actually will reduce the amount right there.
So, one you have a volume of water. Two, you can actually change your formulation to say, all right, it’s the same active ingredient, the chemical, but we could change up what we’re putting out there, which will lead to a decrease in the amount of chemical that’s used, because once again, you’re spot spraying.
So I spray more chemical, per unit area, but I’m only going to 33% of the field, for example. So the aggregate usage is going to be significantly less. So those are the types of things that we’re interested in, water reduction, pesticide reduction, and then, you know, later see then fertiliser.
That type of thing with a micronutrient, we do that really well with drones and all those things are pretty exciting.
[00:15:50] Alex Mospanyuk: Oh, that is so cool. And so besides these innovations, is there anything else in the industry that you’re excited about? Anything that’s up and coming?
[00:15:57] Michael Ott: Yeah, so we love digital integrations. So, when you have an imagery partner, whoever that is, if it’s Taranis, Sentera, Granular, any of those groups that are all coming up with, maps, hotspot areas, et cetera,
What we can then take that is maybe an easy button to just say, okay, here’s where your problem is, let’s get one or two clicks and get someone right there to treat that problem that you just identified.
That’s a pretty exciting area for us that we want to integrate with all of those digital & data partners. Once you’ve identified those problems, let’s go treat them with just what needs to be treated. Not everything else.
[00:16:39] Alex Mospanyuk: Yeah, definitely. That’s so interesting. And so what is something that you wish you would have known when you began your career?
[00:16:45] Michael Ott: I think it’s the value of systems. So as you look at how to set something up to make everyone agree to it, you know, so in our system, we’ve got farmers that are actually, using less product. And, getting better outcomes in the field. So it’s in their interests, then motivating an ag retailer to be able to get out and do a treatment, or they wouldn’t normally get into.
So it improves their bottom line. We’re selling equipment and chemical companies are becoming more sustainable. Maybe you have people that charge a little bit more for a product and all that. So thinking about that whole system, making that work. That’s a thing that I don’t think people do enough of. I think of it. Here’s what I’m doing.
This is what’s better for me. So it’s gotta be better for everyone else.
That system level thinking is where we want to be existing at. Then, once you have that, everyone else comes along because, “oh, I’m going to make more money, you’re going to make more money, we’re going to hit sustainability goals and we’ll be happier, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:17:51] Alex Mospanyuk: So systems and efficiency, two fantastic words. All right. Well, as we come to a close, I just wanted to ask what is the number one takeaway that you really want our listeners to absorb from this episode?
[00:18:02] Michael Ott: Yeah,drone spraying is real. It’s here. It’s happening now. Legally in multiple states. Rantizo is ready to help people, bring those efficiencies, right to their field.
You can check us out at Rantizo.Com, R A N T I Z O. And we’re ready to work with people, we’ve got a pretty good summation of my network, it’s 50 people all across the country.
And we want to expand that pretty dramatically as we go forward. And we’re really excited about high value use cases. Such as fruit, vegetable, cannabis, all those different things, you name it? Uh, the ability to use drones there, levers of value in tremendous ways.
[00:18:45] Alex Mospanyuk: That’s incredible. And so we’ll make sure to link your website and things like that to this podcast episode, so our customers and users can go straight to it, but as for that, thank you so much, Michael. Thanks for joining us today.
[00:18:56] Michael Ott: Thank you. That was fantastic.
[00:18:57] Alex Mospanyuk: Well, that’s all for today’s episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Michael Ott for joining me today.
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