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by Lisa Coon | Photo by Ron Johnson |
Alexander Chequim
Alexander Chequim

Alexandre Chequim of Brazil is planting his DigiFarmz headquarters in Peoria and moving here

Alexandre Chequim comes from a family of farmers. His great-grandfather emigrated from southern Italy to Brazil, where he grew grapes and eventually row crops.

His entire life, Chequim has been surrounded by all things agriculture, combined with an early interest in technology — coding and creating databases by age 9.

‘Farmers gather lots of data but aren’t good at utilizing it’
— Ben Martin

As an agronomist and serial entrepreneur, the now 44-year-old has started nine companies. He sold all of those in 2017 to co-found DigiFarmz Smart Agriculture in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he lives with his wife, Caroline, and teen son Alex.

The company has developed a digital platform that combines climate information, cultivar genetics, seed sowing dates, disease biology, location and other parameters to provide farmers real-time recommendations for their specific situations. This allows for the optimization of agrochemicals, with the potential to increase a field’s yield and overall crop profitability.

Today, their database has information on more than 20 row crops covering more than 1.8 million acres. Those crops include soybeans, wheat and barley, with the company close to launching an application for corn, Chequim said.

“We are committed to improving food nutrition in a more sustainable way,” he said. “There are real challenges for farmers – complex challenges with too many variables. The DigiFarmz platform can provide them the guidance to increase their yield in a way that is best for the ecosystem.”

The appeal of Peoria

By November, Chequim will pick up and move his family from Brazil to Peoria, where he will open the U.S. headquarters of DigiFarmz. The company currently has about 40 employees in Brazil.

Chequim expects to hire at least five people in the first 18 months when the Peoria office opens in space at Distillery Labs’ The Nest Coworking, 820 SW Adams St.

Chequim already has experienced life in Peoria. He and his family rented a local house last December and stayed through early January. They took in what the city offers and fell in love.

‘I’d love to see in the next 10 years a building with (the name) DigiFarmz on it’
— Chris Setti

“We visited other places — Florida, the Carolinas, the Bay area and northern coastal area – but I need to be very sincere that here, in Peoria, I felt like I was at home,” Chequim said. “People are engaged in helping us make this happen. From the first time we arrived here, everybody has been very welcoming.

“All my mentors said, ‘If you want to expand to the U.S., you need to be the one to be there to grow the team. You can’t hire someone to do it.’ I’m very excited for this.”

‘No one is delivering the guidance we can’

The DigiFarmz platform would be available on an affordable annual subscription rate based on the farmer’s volume, Chequim said.

“No one is delivering the same exact guidance we can,” he said. “There are a lot of platforms and hardware that our platform can connect with. And we’re agnostic. When we developed the platform, we knew what we had to be, with no relationship to a chemical company or commercial ag company.”

Ben Martin, agronomy manager for Akron Services in Edelstein, said there’s currently not a well-known platform for disease monitoring that’s predictive.

“It sounds like they hope to build on top of data to provide more of that kind of insight to farmers. I would say farmers aren’t using all the data they have available to them now,” Martin said. “That would be a handy tool if it proves to be effective.”

One example of a benefit, he said, would be better timing of fungicide application to increase returns.

“It maybe could allow them to skip an application they were putting on as a preventive measure,” Martin said. “Farmers gather lots of data but aren’t good at utilizing it and acting on it. It looks like that’s what they’re trying to achieve with this platform.”

Alexandre Chequim, co-founder and CEO of DigiFarmz Smart Agriculture, attends a Bradley basketball game with his wife, Caroline, and son, Alex
Alexandre Chequim, co-founder and CEO of DigiFarmz Smart Agriculture, attends a Bradley basketball game with his wife, Caroline, and son, Alex

How it came together

When the headquarters opens in Peoria, Chequim said the Brazil location will become a subsidiary. He also has plans to open offices in Champaign and Lafayette, Indiana, with discussions underway about how DigiFarmz could partner with the University of Illinois and Purdue University.

Chris Setti, chief executive officer of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, met Chequim following a meeting in Chicago last November.

“I was invited to come to Chicago to meet a group of 15 Brazilian companies at Start Out Brazil, organized by the Brazilian Economic Consulate,” he said. “It was for companies looking to break into the U.S. market.

“They invited us to come up and make a presentation on Peoria … I made a 15-minute pitch on Peoria and what I thought the value proposition was for Peoria, how I like living in Peoria, how it’s cheaper than living in Chicago … and five of (the businessmen) rented a van and came to Peoria the next day.”

As for Chequim, he came the following week, Setti said.

“And then he came back and brought his wife and son. We just tried to make connections for him,” Setti said. “He likes being in the center of an agriculture hotspot. Peoria made a lot of sense for him and his company. They just fell in love … I’d love to see in the next 10 years a building with (the name) DigiFarmz on it.”

Chequim has similar plans. He hopes to hire 10–13 people within three years and have a physical location within five years, employing 30–35 people.

It’s a victory, Setti said.

“Alex and his family will be moving here — that’s three new residents to Peoria,” he said. “I hope they grow and become a major employer. I want Alex to be successful. He becomes suddenly an ambassador for Peoria in his home country. Entrepreneurs hang out with entrepreneurs.”

Lisa Coon

is a Peoria native who had a long career in the newspaper industry before moving into marketing and communications