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The founder of Agrilink had a simple goal: to become the Dell or Microsoft of the agriculture sector, to revolutionise farming by making available a host of web based services. This article provides an insight in to the history of the company.
The history of Agrilink can be traced to a small company operating in Western Australia, Agrilink Water Management. After a number of years trading as Agrilink - Agrilink Holdings, Agrilink International, Agrilink Florida - the company rebranded to AquaSpy in 2007.
Agrilink Water Management was founded by Peter Moller in 1990. The Ag Chem company Moller had been working for exited out of servicing the Horticulture market and rather than looking for employment, decided to start his own company. Agrilink Water Management began life as a water management consultancy using the technology at the time (neutron probe) to provide irrigation management advice to growers in the south west of Western Australia.
When Adelaide based company, Sentek Sensor Technologies introduced the EnviroSCAN capacitance soil moisture sensor, Moller was one of the first consultants to adopt this technology. The company then switched from taking weekly neutron probe readings to consulting based on the continuous soil moisture data the new product delivered. This provided customers with far more information and helped increase the value of the services the company provided.
During the mid 1990's, Moller worked closely with Nigel Robinson, the then Marketing Manager at Sentek. Sentek's soil moisture probes utilised multi-core cable to connect back to a data logger. The logger would be removed every week and taken back to the office to download the stored readings in to a computer running Sentek's software. The system had two major shortcomings: firstly the cable was susceptible to damage from machinery and lighting and secondly, users often returned to the site a week later only to discover that they had not correctly primed the logger prior to replacing it in the field, meaning a week of lost data. There had to be a better way.
Agrilink Holdings was added to the Australian companies register on 1/5/1997 (ACN 078 399 158, registered name AGRILINK HOLDINGS PTY LTD). Robinson had by then left Sentek and was looking for new opportunities.
Earlier in the year, Sentek had received a visit from Austrian Company Adcon Telemetry , to explore opportunities to distribute Adcon's range of telemetry products in Australia. At that time the equipment was principally used for automatic weather stations, providing information not just on current climate conditions but, through the use of a number of models, providing warnings on the likely outbreak of a number of plant pests and diseases. Sentek at the time could not see a place for the products in its range.
Robinson approached Adcon Telemetry ande secured the distribution rights for their products in Australia. Robinson and Moller reached agreement on allowing Robinson to take on the Agrilink name and business model and Agrilink Holdings was born.
The company initially operated from an office in Melbourne St, North Adelaide, South Australia. Having identified the companies and regions likely to be interested in weather data, the company set out installing weather stations on a trial basis on grower's properties. In each district one of Adcon's telemetry base stations would be deployed to collect the data from the radio data loggers which formed the heart of each station. A computer in the company's office would dial out via landline telephone each day to collect the data and store it on Adcon's addVANTAGE software. If at the end of the trial the customer wished to keep the weather station, it would be left on site and the customer invoiced; if not, it would be moved to another property. Many irrigation regions around Australia adopted the weather networks to access weather data.
Whereas in Europe interest in disease management was high, the adoption of using wireless weather stations running remote models for disease management in Australia was still in its infancy. Irrigation agronomists had proven that there was a good market for soil moisture monitoring, however many potential customers were put off by the manual reading of soil moisture with neutron probes or tensiometers or the need to install cables to link insitu probes back to a central data logger. Robinson could see what other sensor companies had failed to: the opportunity to use wireless telemetry products like Adcon, to deploy radio linked soil moisture probes. However Adcon's current family of radio data loggers were too expensive to be used for the purpose. What was needed was a lower cost, short range radio. Use of the Sentek soil moisture probes was out, mainly because the company was not interested in developing a new interface to replace the proprietary interface used to date by their probes.
Adcon agreed not just to make a new low power radio, but also to begin development of a capacitance sensor. The latter development was shelved when Agrilink decided to take the task on themselves.
To coincide with its refocusing on the turf market, Agrilink opened a new branch called GolfLinx. Although not registered as a separate company, a Board of Management was formed to run GolfLinx. To build credibility with the golf sector, former profession Bruce Devlin was appointed to the board . Equipment was installed on 6 high profile courses to give the company reference sites. Back in Australia a GolfLinx division was created to target Australian courses.
Despite a belief that “our soil moisture and salinity sensors, combined with our telemetry and software, are the best in the world” neither the US or Australian arms could achieve any traction in the golf market and the division was quietly disbanded in early 2009.
In November 2007 the "Agrilink" brand was dropped in favour of a new name - Aquaspy Group. The company's latest soil moisture sensor had been christened the Aquaspy and the company adopted that moniker. The board cited the reason for the change as being that the previous name was "too strongly linked to agriculture and didn't reflect other products and services. This includes a turf and golf course business that is tapping a large and receptive market" .
At the time of the name change, AquaSpy had “more than 50,000 AquaSpy sensors in use around the world” .