Every year, there’s a kind of a dance that goes on in farm country. The landowner-renter conversation about continuing to work together is a standard for the industry, but this is no longer a market of handshakes and implied agreements. The ag land market is evolving — and if Corbett Kull has his way, his company will be part of that new future.
Kull, who had his first ag tech startup 640 Labs a few years ago, has seen a new opportunity with ag land rental management. “A friend of mine called me up and told me his grandmother died and left him a farm,” Kull recalls. “He didn’t know how to manage it, and that started me on this journey.”
He worked with that friend to figure out what to do with the family farm, and along that path, he discovered some interesting facts. The farmland market is a $32 billion business, and 40% of that land is rented. “There is not great data out there for landowners to know what they have and what it’s worth from a rental standpoint,” he says. “Working with my friend, I figured out that this is kind of a big problem that needs to be tackled.”
From that came Tillable, which is a website marketplace that has two sides. On one side are landowners who have land they’re looking to rent out. On the other are growers looking for land to rent.
Kull explains that landowners list their farms and get offers from growers in the system to farm the land. Growers in the system create a profile; so when offers come in, the landowners can look at the offer and the farmer profile. “Land rent is more than just about price,” he adds. “You want the most qualified grower to rent your farmland.”
It’s easy to consider comparing Tillable to Tinder or other dating sites. The landowner “swipes right” for the growers he wants to work with — but it’s more than that. Once the relationship is created, Tillable has a continued purpose.
Continuing the relationship
Today, growers who rent land report to landowners in a number of ways. Phone calls, visits, newsletters and other communication methods may be used. “The grower can report what’s planted, how the soil is being managed and other information through Tillable to the landowner,” Kull explains. “They can upload planting maps, yield maps, soil testing information — it all becomes available to the landowner.”
Tillable already has application program interface agreements with John Deere and Climate, so information from those systems can flow into the website for easier reporting. “We want the information flow to be more automatic,” Kull says.
He acknowledges that many landowners are older and less tech-savvy. “We will work with landowners. If they give us the name, the entity owned, county and approximate acreage, we can create a public listing based on other public data,” he says. “If the landowner has soil maps or tile maps, they can send that information to us and we will add it to the file. The more data, the better.”
Farmers know that there are also vast public information resources about the land they farm. Kull says more of that public information will eventually become part of this system, too.
Even though the rental season may be over for many, Tull noted that even in early March there were landowners on the system looking for renters in 2019.
Already, Tillable has 5,000 grower accounts on the platform — mainly in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota — but there are growers across two dozen states. “We’ve rented about 50,000 acres so far [through the system], but we’re putting up more land as we speak. I expect that number to go up in the 2019 season.”
And how is Tillable compensated? “We take a cut of the transaction. The rental transaction payment is made through the platform. For landowners, we take 30% of the increase in rent for Year 1, and in Year 2, it’s 2%,” he explains. “For growers, we get 2% of the whole rental rate.”
Kull adds that if the landowner rents to a new grower but the rent doesn’t go up, Tillable doesn’t take that 30%,but still gets the 2%. They company only gets money if the transaction happens through the platform.
For more information, visit tillable.com.