Digi-Star, a Fort Atkinson-based company, will be the new headquarters for the agricultural division of Topcon Positioning Group, the U.S. subsidiary of Topcon Corporation, officials announced Tuesday.
“We’re going to base ourselves out of (Fort Atkinson),” Michel Bourke, vice president of sales for Topcon Precision Agriculture, said. “It’s pretty exciting to have this as a base in the Midwest for us.”
Topcon Positioning Group, headquartered in Livermore, Calif., acquired Digi-Star in March as one of several acquisitions made by Topcon since last November in an effort to reach all aspects of the agricultural sector.
“The plan is really to grow the business and integrate it,” Bourke said. “So that way we’re not just focusing on one side of farming — so that we’re actually looking at the dairy and beef cattle industry as part of our total technology.”
Other Topcon acquisitions include Wachendorrf Elecktronik, NORAC Systems International Inc. and RDS Technology.
Digi-Star, located on State Highway 106, is a leading international provider of “precision agriculture” measurement solutions and produces products including weighing systems, proprietary controllers and monitors, software and a new hand-held product for tracking the moisture content in forage.
“Digi-Star’s focus is on the scale systems — weights and measures, and how much of something,” Kevin Klubertanz, general manager of Digi-Star, indicated. “Topcon is really more focused on controls, automation and GPS. So we start to marry those technologies together to provide the farmer with a broader solution as far as what they can do with efficiencies and productivity.”
Digi-Star will remain based in Fort Atkinson.
“We’ve got a couple people that are planning to move into our facility from different areas of Topcon,” Klubertanz said. “We’re not moving production or moving anything. If anything, a few people from the Topcon part of the business are going to be moving to the Fort Atkinson area.”
Digi-Star originated in 1981 in Garden City, Kan., as part of Butler Manufacturing Co., and was involved in development of products for “on-board” weighing in the cattle feeding industry.
Butler moved the scale division in 1984 to the company’s former location at the intersection of West Rockwell and Janesville avenues in Fort Atkinson. The scale division later was sold to J-STAR Industries in 1987.
The company operated as J-STAR Electronics, a division of J-STAR Industries, for eight years. Continuous growth necessitated that it be established as a separate company in 1995, under the name of Digi-Star LLC.
The company has grown significantly over the years, acquiring Tyrel Corporation in 1998, and an international marketing and distribution center in the Netherlands in 1999 to better serve its growing customer base in Europe.
In 2006, Digi-Star was purchased by members of its management team and Northstar Capital from JSI Industries Inc. (formerly J-Star Industries).
In 2011 it was acquired by Baird Capital. One year later, Digi-Star bought RDS Technology in the United Kingdom, which had nearly 100 employees.
RDS Technology was acquired by Topcon, along with Digi-Star, in March. Wachendorff Elecktronik, based in Geisenheim, Germany, was acquired by Topcon in November of 2014. Since the acquisition, Topcon has become the world’s largest manufacturer of in-cab consoles.
NORAC Systems International Inc., based in Saskatoon, Canada, currently is the world’s leading supplier of boom height control systems that automatically keep the sprayer boom at the correct distance from the top of the crop or ground. Topcon acquired NORAC this past June.
“We bought them really to attack the spray and harvesting markets,” Bourke said. “It brought ultrasonic technology that we didn’t have into the solution.”
Brian Sorbe, Topcon sales director for the Americas, explained that there is a long-term strategic vision for the acquisitions and the technologies that Topcon is gaining as a result.
“We’re not having technologies that necessarily overlap (from these different companies we’ve acquired),” Sorbe said. “They just link together and when you see this across the farm and what it means to end-users, you can start to see how these technologies merge.”
Where Topcon historically has focused on variable rate, telematics, positioning, correction sources, consoles — of which they have at least 60 — Wachendorrf Elecktronik allows them to go from 15 different manufacturers to one who “happens to be the best in the business.”
“We didn’t have much overlap with Digi-Star products,” Sorbe said. “But there are a few categories — specifically with harvesting and planting — that was a perfect marriage. But really, it’s from a high level of being able to create product portfolios and solutions for a farmer that grows crops and also feeds livestock — we’re trying to position ourselves as a total solution provider.”
The ultrasonic sensors from NORAC allows for further development of the load and weight-based sensors Digi-Star uses.
“There’s a lot of other applications that start to unfold where our engineering and product management groups are really going to be able to shine,” Sorbe said.
Bourke explained that part of Topcon’s motivation for their current business plan comes from the estimated population growth. The world’s current population is seven billion and is expected to reach nine billion by 2030.
“We know that the population’s going to grow,” Bourke said. “The current output of the market will not meet the demands. We’ve got a shortage and it doesn’t matter how much money you put toward it.
“The land mass in the world isn’t growing,” he continued. “We don’t have any more land to farm, but we still need to feed the people, and the only way we can fill the gap is through automation, so that’s where Topcon really steps in.
“That’s part of the acquisition strategy that we’ve taken on board,” Bourke concluded. “To really bring technology to all parts of the farming sector … we really focused on buying the best in the industry.”