Farmers Business Network Targets Expansion Amid $15M Capital Raise
June 22, 2015
By Gerelyn Terzo
Farmers Business Network, a data driven farmer to farmer network that connects growers with each other, just raised $15 million in a series B venture capital round led by Google Ventures (GV), the tech giant’s venture capital arm. In addition to GV, other investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as DBL, more than doubling the start-up’s total capital raised since inception to approximately $28 million. Charles Baron, co-founder of FBN and former Google employee, said the start-up is designed to combine the best of Silicon Valley with the farming community.
“It’s tremendous to have their support,” said Baron, adding that the tech giant was drawn to FBN’s user-generated data that gives farmers the power to make better decisions. “We are a tech company entirely focused on farmers, and I think that really resonates with Google, whose philosophy is making information openly accessible. That’s what we set out to do in agriculture.”
FBN’s management team extends to several industry veterans, including Amol Deshpande, co-founder and chief executive officer and former Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner, as well as Ed Rowe, vice president of engineering and an Adobe Systems alum. Baron acknowledged that Google principles – comprised of arelentless focus on the user, making products intuitive and accessible, pricing fairly, treating objectivity as sacrosanct and thinking very big — are knitted into the culture of FBN.
The company plans to use the new capital toward hiring engineers and data scientists as well as growing FBN’s presence in farming communities. “That’s what we want to build, an incredible team of technologists and agriculturalists working with the world’s most innovative farmers, ” said Baron.
Baron was inspired to launch FBN with co-founder Deshpande after spending time on his brother-in-law’s Nebraska farm. “We created FBN to be growers’ advocate and to allow them to use information in fundamentally new ways, which helps them to be more profitable and thrive on their land,” he said, adding that farmers sharing information with farmers is nothing new.
“Farmers talking about harvests is as old as farming,” noted Baron. “Our farmers have been doing that in coffee shops, bringing in printouts of yield maps and talking to each other. The concept of FBN came from farmers. We developed the technology.”
That technology involves combining data streams from millions of acres across the country, including information on hundreds of varieties and more than a dozen crops inputted by farmers. The data points could range from planting data, to seed treatments, pest information, chemical applications and harvest results. FBN captures and analyzes the data, providing a benchmark from which farmers can compare performance with each other or with their own fields and use the data to isolate problem areas. Farmers may respond by changing planting populations or changing the hybrids they purchase to begin with, for instance.
Although FBN’s technology was only launched at year-end 2014, the start-up has already begun seeing results, evidenced by users who’ve changed their seed portfolios based on what they learned from other users on FBN. “The goal is to democratize information farmers are generating. That means shifting the information advantage to the farmers, and that’s where we believe it belongs,” said Baron.
The company is entirely farmer focused, keeping information anonymous and restricting access to farmers alone — not casual users. “FBN is for farmers only, including precision as well as non-precision growers. We’ve met almost all of our members in person and we do screening over the phone,” Baron explained. FBN’s Midwestern Headquarters are in Davenport, Iowa and the company has an office in Sioux Falls, S.D.
FBN takes a hands-on approach by visiting farms to demonstrate how the technology works. “Farms are rural but they’re not low-tech. Farms are incredibly technologically advanced and farmers are very sophisticated about technology, but they can also be frustrated by a lot of new technology,” he said. “For growers using FBN, it’s as easy as upload, drop and drag. And at that point, we do the rest of the work.”
According to Baron, similar technology wasn’t possible even a few years ago. He said advances in large-scale computing has allowed the company to process enormous amounts of farming data at a rate that’s reasonable for farmers, whether they oversee several hundred acres or thousands of acres.
Currently FBN is entirely focused on U.S. farms, with a growing presence across 20 states. “We have had enormous interest from farmers all over the world, including Canada, Australia, Eastern Europe and South America. Foreseeably we could go into Canada first, or other countries with farming that’s very similar to U.S. operators,” said Baron. For now, the capital allows the company to grow its local presence, which the company has been doing at a 30 percent clip each month. “That’s really important to us,” he said, adding that FBN is an independent company that plans to stay that way.
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