Appanoose Manufactured excited for AFBF Ag Innovation Challenge
Mark Mendick closely evaluated the challenge lying before him. He knew there was a solution.
As a Moulton Fire Department volunteer firefighter, he had just returned from a blaze where a baler had shot up in flames. By the time the fire department arrived on scene, the baler was fully engulfed in fire.
“(The farmer) was able to get the tractor unhooked, but by the time we got there, the baler was a total loss,” Mendick explained.
“He used a fire extinguisher and told us that if he had something else to put it out within the first five minutes when the fire was still small, it probably could have been contained and required just a few replacement parts.”
In another instance, the department was called to a northern Missouri farm where a prescribed burn had gotten out of hand.
“The farmer didn’t have any tools to contain it, and it ended up catching his pole barn on fire,” Mendick said. “It was a total loss. He said, ‘If I would have had something to get five extra minutes before the fire department arrived, maybe the barn could have been saved.’”
Mendick, armed with a mechanical engineering degree from Iowa State University and successful years of experience designing bulldozers for Case and large mining equipment for Weiler Products, set about building a prototype fire suppression model for use not only in the fire industry but also in the ag community — specifically on the farm.
His research uncovered that there are a few solutions already out there, but not necessarily on a smaller, portable and affordable scale for use in rural communities where water can be scarce, and certainly not in an ultra-high-pressure capacity — something he learned the U.S. Air Force had perfected.
“So I asked myself how can I downsize this, simplify it and make it something that we can put in the hands of farmers and ranchers as well as the fire community, and also make it multi-functional,” Mendick said.
Maybe develop it for use as a pressure washer to clean ag equipment or provide tanks for herbicide and insecticide applications, he thought.
Through research and development, Appanoose Manufactured Products was born. It advanced and evolved and now designs and manufactures fire suppression technology with an emphasis on UHP (ultra-high-pressure) units.
Mendick, owner and founder, has been named one of 10 semifinalists in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Ag Innovation Challenge, a contest that showcases ideas and business innovations in agriculture.
He earned a $10,000 prize as a semifinalist and is in the running for a $35,000 grand prize to be awarded at the AFBF annual convention in Salt Lake City Jan. 19-24, 2024. There, Mendick will present his business model at the convention in a “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition.
“I’m very excited,” Mendick said. “Our units provide a quick and simple solution to combat the growing number of fires each year. It’s an ag product … and this gives me the opportunity to put this in front of the right people and see what kind of potential it has.”
Pictured above: Mark Mendick says he’s working to expand his business, with hopes to move fabrication and assembly in-house.
PHOTOS / CONRAD SCHMIDT
Mendick didn’t think a four-year degree was in his future. But after his small lawn and landscaping business took off, he was able to sock away enough funds to pay for tuition at Iowa State University, graduating in 2015.
“I was always kind of proud that I was able to do that,” Mendick said.
Following his stints at Case and Weiler, Mendick and his wife, Kassi, moved back to her hometown of Moulton to raise their family. He began working for a smaller manufacturing facility out of Des Moines, Central Wire and Iron Works, that allowed him the freedom to research and investigate potential manufacturing ideas.
His boss actually told him, “Keep being creative. Keep looking for those new ideas.”
So when Mendick approached the company with his fire protection model, it was game on.
“Basically, I began searching for a product for the fire department that would help stretch our water further,” Mendick explained, and most were too expensive. “I told my fire chief I could build a prototype and only charge for materials.
“I took this idea that a couple had already been doing and modified it and really pointed it toward the fire and ag industries. And it caught on from there.”
Mendick outsources the fabrication, painting and assembly to Central Wire, but he markets and sells the products from his office on Main Street in Moulton. While the fire industry has been his primary customer thus far across the Midwest, he’s looking to further develop ties to the ag industry, whether it be through implement dealers or to farmers directly.
“It’s a great product just to have around on the farm or ranch,” Mendick said.
How it works
At roughly $7,000 per unit, Mendick admits it can be a little pricey for the average farmer, but he’s working to bring the costs down.
For example, with his $10,000 winnings as an Ag Innovation Award semifinalist, he plans to invest in switching the aluminum tanks to high-density plastic, making the overall unit less costly and lighter.
Could insurance companies lower premiums or deductibles on equipment if a farmer has one of these units? It’s a possibility he’s investigating, Mendick said.
“If you’re using it to protect a $300,000 combine, it’s money well spent,” he said.
The model itself weighs roughly 300 pounds empty, and can be thrown in the bed of a pickup or mounted on a UTV, combine, tractor, grain cart or baler.
“Something that makes our company unique is that we do have three or four models that are cookie cutter, but our niche is in the custom design,” Mendick explained. “We pride ourselves in being able to design or fabricate to any operation’s needs, whether that’s a custom-sized tank, custom mounting system for an implement or a complete system design.”
The water tank has the ability to mix with a reservoir of foam and can spray a fine mist at 1,500 psi that helps extinguish a fire or contain it quickly. With the high pressure, “it’s absorbing the heat more efficiently,” Mendick said.
Its multifunctionality as a pressure washer or for herbicide and insecticide applications makes it attractive for farm and ranch use.
“You can rinse off your equipment, which in turn is being proactive against fires if you’re able to get that dirt and grease off,” Mendick said.
Should Appanoose Manufactured Company advance in the Ag Innovation Challenge and secure more funding, Mendick hopes to move fabrication and assembly in-house, add employees and secure a larger building.
“Our biggest challenge as a company is that we do not have the space required to constantly develop new ideas and test existing products,” Mendick said. “We also have a single assembly area, which limits the production throughput.”
Mendick is community-minded, hoping to provide some much-needed economic development to Moulton and Appanoose County. “My biggest goal is to create this company where I can bring people from the community in and work for me and have a stable job here,” he said.
Mendick said he’s excited to not only present his product at the AFBF convention but also network with other semifinalists about their businesses.
“Bounce ideas off of them and get insight on what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
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