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Stillwater entrepreneur draws on ranching roots to form successful software firm

SST compiles geo-referenced maps, data to help farmers worldwide
BY PAULA BURKES pburkes@opubco.com Published: July 8, 2012
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The seed for David Waits' SST software company really was planted years ago when he spent a decade helping his dad run a cattle ranch. He turned the idea over in his head, as the wheels turned on the John Deere tractor he was driving.

Waits knew the soil across the field was variable, and thought there had to be a way to keep from, for example, fertilizing areas where nothing grew and double-fertilizing others. The solution crystallized in the mid-'90s with the refinement of global positioning satellite (GPS) software.

Soon after, Waits founded SST Software in Stillwater, a firm that provides information-based management technologies to fertilizer dealers, crop consultants and other agriculture service providers to help farmers worldwide improve productivity and lower costs. Customers use SST's online geo-referenced, site-specific data on 65 million acres to navigate and collect and bar code soil samples from different fields to be tested intensively for acidity, potassium, phosphorus and other elements.

They marry their maps with results from dozens of soil-testing labs that electronically send their results.

“The real story is how farmers did,” Waits said. “With the layering of data on SST's maps, farmers can see how their soil treatment affects crop yields. There are sensors on combines that, for example, harvest corn. As they move across the fields, the sensors are reading that much grain, that much grain, that much … .”

Waits recently was named the Oklahoma small business person of the year by the Small Business Administration. His company, which serves customers in 44 states, eight Canadian provinces and 22 countries, had $6.7 million in sales last year, he said.

SST, which has branch offices in Champaign, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Milwaukee, Wis., employs 55, and more than 20 of those have a decade or more in service.

From his offices at 824 N Country Club Road, Waits, 58, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about his professional and personal life. The following is an edited transcript:

Q: Can you tell us about your roots?

A: As a boy, I lived in Buffalo, OK. My father taught vo-ag there and farmed wheat, corn and milo on 1,000 acres his family originally homesteaded in 1902 north of Woodward. When I was 15, he bought a 2,000-acre cattle ranch in Ashland, Kan., where I, and my younger brother and sister, graduated high school. I played trumpet in the band and, from 13 on, had a dirt bike. Today, I own and ride Harleys.

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PERSONALLY SPEAKING

David Waits

• Position: Chairman, SST Software

• Birth date: Sept. 6, 1953

• Family: Cindy, wife of four years; sons Matt, 35, SST president, and Mark, 33; four grandchildren, ages 1 to 6

• Education: Oklahoma State University, bachelor's in economics and master's in geography; Texas Tech University, interdisciplinary doctorate in land use management

• Community service: Serves on the boards of OSU's Cowboy Technologies and its Center for Innovative and Economic Development

• Passions: Motorcycle rides; relaxing in Eureka Springs, Ark., where he and Cindy have a vacation home; and raising registered Brangus cattle on his 2,000-acre ranch 15 miles west of Stillwater on either side of State Highway 51.

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