How much money could farmers save on their inputs if they could share boatloads of information among themselves and take advantage of all that shared knowledge to inform their decisions?

A new startup, called the Farmers Business Network, was created on that idea—farmers getting transparent pricing and better information when it comes to making their decisions on seed selection, chemical purchases and other inputs.

Originally, a small group of farmers put together the idea for this network and two entrepreneurs brought it to life.

The Farmers Business Network creates a future for farmers that is independent, data driven, transparent and fair with real competition for their business. It all boils down to more profits for independent family farms,” state’s the company’s web page. (www.fbn.com)

In the few years the FBN has been in existence, it has nearly 8,000 farmers participating as members. Those farmers work 30 million acres of cropland in the United States and Canada and are in almost every state—from Florida to Alaska, but are most heavily represented in the Corn Belt. The network has members in nearly every state, including Wisconsin. It also has 350 employees from Mississippi to Washington and into Canada with three of them covering territories in Wisconsin.

Charles Baron, a former Google program manager co-founded the network in 2014 with Amol Deshpande, a venture capitalist who had started other seed and agriculture businesses and is CEO of the FBN. Their business really launched a year later after they refined a platform to handle the increasing amounts of information from farms. The use of that data allows farmer-members to make better decisions using the network’s unbiased information.

Only a few years ago, this kind of network wouldn’t have been possible—the technology just wasn’t there. Now, with more and more data from farms readily available, FBN’s computing power helps farmers make decisions.

Their aim is to build the largest farmer-to-farmer agronomic and business network in the country, based on anonymous data-sharing from farmers. Farmers putting their data into the network’s database are guaranteed anonymity.

In a telephone interview, co-founder Baron told Wisconsin State Farmer that the network operates as an independent source of information for farmers and it is powered by the data they provide. “The Farmers Business Network then creates services and technology to leverage the power of that network,” he said.

Farmers pay $700 a year to be part of the network and can participate at any level they feel comfortable with. They can buy seed, chemicals and fertilizer through the network without sharing data if that’s their comfort level. Some farmers in the network, he explained, may have high-tech equipment with yield monitors and the data that comes with that. But other farmers have smaller acreage making it difficult to justify spending the money on the newer technology.

“We have farms in the network up to 20,000 acres and we have 80- to 100-acre farms,” Baron said. “We allow farmers to participate at whatever level of sharing and technology they have and feel comfortable with.”

“We created a plan with a partner last year for health insurance since that is one of the most out-of-control expenses for a farmer; and a huge number of farmers go uninsured,” he said. “With our plan, farmers tell me they have realized savings of up to 45 percent on their health insurance.”

“When farmers start sharing information, they can cut through the marketing that comes from the industry,” Baron said. Once they had the data at their fingertips, many network farmers realized they were paying two or three times as much for their inputs as they should have been, he adds.

Source: Wisconsin State Farmers

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