Renewable Farming

Farm Business Network challenges tradition among dominant farm-supply corporations

Yesterday, Wall Street Journal reporter Jacob Bunge posted an in-depth article on the WSJ website: “Tech Startup, Trying to Be Amazon for Farms, Runs into Ag Giants.”

August 31, 2020 — Bunge’s article offers some of the widest publicity yet for the six-year-old Farm Business Network. It’s a marketing venture intent on infusing Amazon-like tech and competition into retailing seed, ag chemicals and production financing. When the venture started six years ago, it gained encountered little opposition from ag co-ops and powers like Syngenta and Bayer. But as it attracted thousands of farmer-members across the Midwest, and raised about $571 million in venture capital, the corporate farm supply chain began to rattle — and strike back. 

Jacob Bunge details this opposition. FBN, as it’s branded, also shatters another taboo: It discloses the parent lines of F1 corn hybrids, so you as a grower can compare both pedigree and prices. The FBN website also compares GMO and non-GMO corn and soybean seed prices. Its website carries farmer testimonies on its home page, such as a quote from David Halsey of Michigan saying he saved about $100 per acre on seed using FBN sourcing.

Farmers pay a $700 per year membership fee, and the organization fosters seminars as well as a sense of belonging to a farmer-focused organization.

When FBN sought a toehold in the Canadian market, some seed and chemical firms refused to sell via this upstart. Then FBN purchased a Canadian farm-supply firm, Yorkton Distributors, which had long-established purchasing contracts with chemical firms like Syngenta. Bunge’s article reveals that the big manufacturers soon terminated Yorkton’s purchasing contracts. 

We encourage you to read Bunge’s article. If you have to buy an online subscription to the WSJ, it’s worth it. The Journal is one of the few business publications that allow its reporters to spend weeks excavating vital details of major business stories, and Jacob does this well.

One of FBN’s pitches to farmers is revealing how costs of chemicals, seed and other inputs have risen in close correlation to the consolidation of supply control by firms such as Bayer, a German firm, or Syngenta, owned by the Chinese. That stings a bit at corporate altitudes.

The FBN is also urging farmers to use its GPS and data services, pointing out that it’s unbiased and independent from any seed breeder or chemical manufacturer. FBN is also encouraging data networking, which protects individuals’ data but allows farmers to review what technologies are working best in similar soils and areas.

So far, we don’t see FBN advocating the pathway we prefer at Renewable Farming: shifting significant NPK, chemical and seed outlays toward biologically benign inputs and non-GMO seed. The FBN data platform would be a powerful way to document the benefits of enhancing the health of soil and its ability to sponge up rainfall. 

Home page of Farmers Business Network site