Investors Return to Back the Fitbit of Farm Equipment
December 29, 2016
Farmobile, a farm data company, is taking strategic steps toward an expansion in the United States and internationally in 2017. A recent partnership with farm equipment manufacturer AGCO Corp bookmarked by visits to both the debt and equity capital markets will help to facilitate that growth.
The Overland Park, Kansas-based startup’s chief product, the passive uplink connection, or PUC, is a device that collects and mobilizes farm data for farmers, regardless of the equipment maker. The PUC, which is a hardware device that gets plugged into a piece of farming equipment, collects and streams machine and agronomy data in real time second-by-second and sends it to the cloud. The data is then reformulated and delivered to the farmer’s mobile device. Farmers can then view, compare, and share the data with trusted advisors on their own time on an iPad, phone, or computer.
Jason Tatge, Farmobile founder and chief executive, tells GAI News that getting data out of a tractor cab and into a centralized location is a pain point the company helps to solve. For instance, without a PUC a farmer must rely on the use of a thumb drive, which limits the way the data is likely to be viewed given the technological complexity that’s attached to a multi-step process. “This gets exponentially more challenging, so farmers let the data sit in the cab,” he says.
Enter PUC, which Tatge describes as the Fitbit of farm equipment. “You can walk around for days not looking at the interface on your phone. Anytime you want to you can go back and see what happened in the past week, month or year [because] Fitbit runs in the background. That’s the same thing we do only with farm equipment,” says Tatge, adding that the box’s slick user interface is unintimidating and modeled to resemble an Apple TV.
Importantly, Farmobile puts data ownership in the hands of the farmer, which is a hot-button issue in precision ag of late. “It’s hard to monetize something you don’t own. We in our agreements explicitly state that farmers are the authors of their own data sets. We help them to collect and store the data. That’s not the case with a lot of other firms in ag,” says Tatge.
To be clear, Farmobile doesn’t perform data analysis but instead collects, stores and delivers the data. Farmers can then decide which tools to use to further analyze the information that is collected. “We are completely agnostic,” says Tatge. “Our goal is to collect data, get it in a standardized data set and let the farmer decide where it should go. There are several analysis tools out there and the farmer can figure out which one works best on their farm.”
Access to Capital
In recent weeks Farmobile tapped the debt capital markets for an undisclosed sum committed by a group of investors that extended to Anterra Capital. The loan is structured as a convertible note, Tatge tells GAI News.
The debt will convert to equity in a Series B round that is expected to be complete by spring 2017. In addition to Anterra Capital, investors who led the company’s $5.5 million Series A round a year ago are participating in the Series B equity funding round currently being raised by Farmobile.
The new capital will give Farmobile the firepower to service partnerships that are in the pipeline – including the company’s most recent deal inked with AGCO Corp – and to support an international expansion. “We want to be prepared to handle that growth,” says Tatge.
Anterra Capital did not return calls seeking comment.
AGCO customers, as a result of a new partnership with Farmobile, will have the option to buy machines that come pre-equipped with Farmobile’s technology. Initially, the options will be offered through select AGCO dealers in North America, however, there are plans to geographically expand the initiative.
Chris Rhodes director of business development, crop cycle at AGCO Corp tells GAI News that Farmobile’s technology is a logical extension of AGCO’s Fuse Connected Services, which is an offering delivered via AGCO dealers to help growers slash input costs and boost yields.
“Customers are increasingly looking for better ways to help answer the challenge of getting, and most effectively using data from their farms. Farmobile … [provides] innovative solutions that answer this call,” says Rhodes.
Key to the Farmobile and AGCO relationship is the belief that data ownership belongs in the hands of the farmer, which is a view not shared by most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). “Some of them have a fairly closed ecosystem. They want you to make data compatible with other pieces of their equipment. But the majority of farmers out there are not 100 percent one brand. They are keen to buy the best pieces of equipment that fits their operation and that’s not always the same color,” says Tatge.
AGCO’s Rhodes offers a similar take. “Farmobile’s solution can help us provide additional operational visibility for the farmer and connect mixed fleets, including AGCO and non-AGCO machines. They also offer a ground breaking and interesting way to help farmers monetize their data,” says Rhodes, adding that Farmobile shares AGCO’s commitment to the key principal that the farmer unequivocally owns his or her data and should have complete control over the level of privacy associated with that data.
Currently AGCO is Farmobile’s flagship partner in original equipment manufacturing. Further announcements are expected in 2017, but for now the startup is “full embraced” in the rapid internationalization of its products. Farmobile is currently collecting farm data across approximately 30-plus states and 10 countries, however, Tatge would not disclose the regions that will be core to the company’s expansion.
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