Farmers Business Network raises $20 million to help farmers avoid spending on what they don’t need

A startup called Farmers Business Network has raised $20 million in new venture funding to support the growth of its professional social network and data-sharing platform for agronomists.

FBN co-founder and Vice President of Product Charles Baron said the company’s platform helps farmers do what they’ve always done offline at community meetings, old-fashioned barn raisings or in other peer groups, which is to share information about what’s working, and not, in their business.

Perhaps most importantly, FBN allows farmers to share and review aggregate pricing data on “inputs,” as they’re called in agriculture, meaning the costly seeds, fertilizers and other chemicals added to the soil to generate a healthy crop.

The FBN platform also allows farmers to upload, store and analyze data coming out of the “agtech” systems increasingly used to monitor weather, crop health, soil quality and irrigation levels in the field. These systems include drones and satellites overhead, mobile apps, sensors and cameras on the ground.

Keeping farmers and independent consultants informed of the real prices being paid for inputs can help them avoid paying too much for what they need, and avoid buying, and using, too much of an input when a lower volume of it will do.

Being able to analyze their own crop data in one report, and compare their results with others’, can also help farmers find what’s working in terms of new techniques or alternative products on the market.

Baron noted that the agriculture industry, like the pharmaceuticals industry, is full of high-priced name brand products, and some seed or other inputs made by smaller, “off-brands,” that are equally effective.

But agronomists buying seeds and chemicals haven’t had the equivalent of a neighborhood pharmacist informing them when there’s an effective generic they could try to lower their expenditures. The FBN community can function that way, he said.

Acre Venture Partners, a food and agriculture specialized fund, led the Series B round in FBN, joined by GV (formerly Google Ventures), Kleiner Perkins and DBL Partners. The new round brings the company’s total capital raised to-date to $44 million.

Agriculture tech has become a huge area of interest for venture capitalists in recent years with a number of new food and agriculture-focused funds launching in the past two years, and agtech deals racking up in the portfolios of larger, generalized tech funds, to improve food production.

FBN cofounder Charles Baron at the startup's Farmer 2 Farmer 2015 conference in Davenport, Iowa.

FBN cofounder Charles Baron at the startup’s Farmer 2 Farmer 2015 conference in Davenport, Iowa.

Acre VC Partner Gareth Asten said his firm, whose sole limited partner is the Campbell Soup Co., backed FBN because:

“There’s kind of a  oligopoly that supplies the inputs in the agriculture industry. Giving farmers empirical data that they can use to make procurement decisions and bring to the conversation with suppliers ends up helping farmers save money, improve their margins and produce food more efficiently.”

He lauded the company for a popular service called FBN Procurement. Through this service, FBN allows members to identify products that they want at a price point that they would be willing to pay for it.

BN then goes directly to manufacturers of those inputs to lock in a bulk rate or other deep discount, which it then passes along to farmer-members who can either go pick up their inputs at a warehouse nearby, or have them shipped to the farm.

Investors expect FBN to use its capital for hiring, to raise awareness of FBN among farmers, and to build out the platform’s coverage around different types of crops and inputs, Asten said.