Farmer2Farmer, data and a football coach

Farmers Business Network (FBN) held their Farmer2Farmer conference in Omaha, NE this week. FBN is a startup company shaking up the world of farm data while making waves in how farmers can purchase inputs for their farms. A reception the evening before the conference was capped off by long time Nebraska head football coach and U.S. Congressman Dr. Tom Osborne. The first day of the conference was populated by a host of guest speakers and panelist with a focus towards farmers as entrepreneurs. Main stage speakers included the likes of Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts, Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, and AOL founder Steve Case. FBN co-founders Charles Baron and Amol Deshpande offered their insights on FBN as a distruptive force in the industry.

Panels focused on farmers who are finding success outside the boundaries of raising crops as their sole income. Illinois farmer Jamie Walter spoke about his Whiskey Acres venture. In addition to farming Jamie started the second of only two distilleries in the country that are based on working farms. I happened to sit my by Jamie at breakfast the next day, and he was ecstatic about an article just posted touting his bourbon as one of the best bourbons to buy under $50 for the holidays. He was especially thrilled that his was the only one on the list not from Kentucky. Another panelist was Andrew Fansler from Shelbyville, Indiana. Andrew is a first generation farmer who started with 42 acres at age 14. Fansler spoke about how he felt confident in becoming a full time farmer because if he failed he would only fail himself and not generations of farmers before him. He praised generational farmers for what they have done to persevere their family legacy. Walter and Fansler were just two of many farmer innovators who spoke at Farmer2Farmer.

Day 2 focused on what FBN provides to member farmers. The basis of FBN is members submitting planting, application, and harvest data. Once a member submits data, access to all the crop data on FBN is opened. Farmers can then dig through yield, population, soil, temperature, planting date info, and more and see how their operations compare across the United States, their home state, or just the region closest to them. They can drill down through other filters like whether or not acres viewed are irrigated or not. FBN says most farmers only get 40 seasons worth of data from their own farms to work with. Through aggregation of data, FBN farmers can see how the varieties they plant perform across 10,000 seasons of combined data. This information can inform future decisions on the farm like what seeds perform the best on a particular soil type.

The other facet of FBN is price transparency and product procurement. This was the focus of the second day. By uploading invoices for seed, fertilizer, and chemicals to FBN farmers will gain access to the range of prices paid for those same products by other members who have submitted their pricing. All the data submitted and seen by others is of course anonymized. And through FBN’s procurement program farmers can buy chemical inputs like herbicide and fungicide directly from FBN instead of through traditional retail methods. There are no volume discounts on these purchases meaning farmers large or small pay the same price for inputs. The members of FBN essentially form a large buying group. FBN calls this method of procurement and data analysis the democratization of farming.

This blog post is part of a sponsorship of the AgChat Foundation by Farmer Business Network. All views and opinions are those of ACF Board member, Brian Scott, who attended FBN’s Farmer2Farmer conference 2016.