WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa farmers are always looking for ways to improve soil health, yield and watershed management, and the latest winner of the Iowa Farm Bureau Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur award is a company that is riding the exploding wave of technology to help them accomplish their conservation goals.

Labre Crop Consulting of Manson, started by Calhoun County farmer Brent Johnson, is a crop consulting and data management business that can help farmers do everything from assess the efficiency of fertilizer applications on their fields to improve soil and watershed conservation.

Started in 2006, Labre uses GPS technology, soil sampling and drone-gathered imaging to make highly detailed, custom recommendations for farmers.

“We started by working a lot of telematics and different things to transfer information we gathered from farm operations and remote sensing equipment to help farmers make the best decisions for their farms,” Johnson said.

But the fast-moving drone technology market has helped Labre take its assessments to a whole new level.

“For example, now you can capture very exacting pictures from these drones, and each pixel within that picture now has information tied to that pixel. Our pixel sizes are basically one inch ground resolutions, so we can even identify individual plants. We measure slopes, watersheds and emergent patterns in corn fields. We can do tile lines, too, because that technology helps us capture slope and the watershed movement on the land,” Johnson said.

Because of the demand for this type of customized information, Labre has grown from a company with a couple consultants to one with nine full-time employees and 10 seasonal employees.

Calhoun County Economic Development Executive Director Pam Anderson said that kind of success is a real benefit to the entire area.

“We don’t have a lot of industries here in Calhoun County, so small businesses make up a lot of our economy. As for labor, keeping our young people local is important because we want them to stay around and work and raise their families here. Labre is helping us do that,” Anderson said.

“Renew Rural Iowa is all about helping small businesses grow and thrive in rural Iowa because we know how vital they are to the sustainability of our rural communities,” said IFBF Economic Development Administrator Sandy Ehrig.

The program has helped more than 2,500 Iowans successfully own and grow their business since the program launched in 2006.