Since it was founded in 2014, the Farmers Business Network has grown to 9,650 farms, with 35 million acres in the U.S. and Canada — just shy of the total area of the state of Iowa and more than triple the number of acres in the network three years ago, when FBN's second Farmer 2 Farmer Conference was held.
FBN recently held its 2019 Farmer 2 Farmer Conference in Omaha, Neb., where the focus was on "Moneyball Farming." As FBN co-founder and vice president of product Charles Baron said, Moneyball Farming takes analytics and years of data collection.
"You often have heard the concept of 40 chances — you have 40 seasons to master your craft," Baron said. "With the FBN network, we now have 25,000 years of cumulative farming experience that have been shared and processed through this system."
Building on the theme of Moneyball Farming, Baron announced several new products and offerings from FBN to help improve farmers' decision making, provide services tailored to their specific farming operation, and ultimately improve their bottom lines.
Here's a look at the latest from FBN:
Partner Program. Over the past year, FBN has rolled out its Partner Program and now has 183 farmer partners in the U.S. and Canada. This involves hubs, managed by members, to serve as distribution points for products sold through FBN.
This provides access to the same benefits from FBN, including network pricing and 0% financing programs, but with a local distribution point where members can return or swap products.
"It gives you a local point to pick up, return and have the access to FBN," Baron said. "It's a permanent presence in your community, so that gives you a lot more security and confidence when you need products right away."
FBN Direct. Expanding on the FBN Direct program, which includes its e-commerce input platform, Baron announced the FBN Agronomy program, combining network data with insight from degreed agronomists for data-driven decision making.
"They do not operate like a sales agronomist like you're used to," Baron said. "They are experienced agronomists with an average of 23 years of experience, who support our members. They are not part of the sales force. They do not have a commission. Plus, their knowledge covers crop protection chemicals, fertility and seed, so our members can get holistic advice from one person, instead of having to juggle three different advisers."
Members can access agronomists by calling or texting the agronomy hotline available on the FBN app or posting a question or image on the FBN Community platform and tagging agronomy.
There are six Ph.D. agronomists across the U.S., and Baron said FBN is adding more.
F2F Genetics Network. In 2018, FBN launched its seed platform, the F2F Genetics Network, providing conventional seed to its members with flat-rate pricing. New this year, the F2F Genetics Network is now offering traited seeds distributed through a product line called Master Farmer, also with flat rates and without zone pricing, Baron said. This includes single-, double- and triple-stack products.
Baron said members can save up to $59 per bag through the Master Farmer system.
In addition, FBN is now offering seed with post-patent traits — this year, post-patent GT corn is becoming available in trial quantities to members in the Southern U.S.
Meanwhile, post-patent traited soybeans will become available in 2020, with more traits coming in the next few years.
HedgeCommand. FBN also announced a service called HedgeCommand, available to members using its Market Advisory service. HedgeCommand combines data, network analytics, advisory services and market perspective to help users manage risk and profitability. It factors in yield data, costs, insurance and market options, and it constantly updates expected profitability.
"It combines all those streams of information, it crunches the numbers, and it answers three basic questions on your expected profitability," Baron said. "Where are you today — what's your basic outlook? Where should you be — where are you trying to go? And how do you get there? What do you do to manage your risk — to manage the revenue side of your business in marketing — to actually get there? Then it makes personal recommendations."
FBN Finance. FBN also announced its newest business, FBN Finance, to provide competitive financing options for farmers. This includes extending operating lines of credit and establishing an optimum rate based on the individual farm's risk and economic outlook.
"It's called the world of fintech or financial technology — getting a better rate for student loans based on your employment, things like that," Baron said. "Now we can do it in agriculture, where we're starting to apply all this other information, things like agronomic understanding and risk and economic outlook to get producers the best possible rate."
Along with new products and programs introduced at the Farmer 2 Farmer Conference, the Farmers Business Network also has kicked off two pilot programs in the past year.
FBN Analytics. In late 2019, FBN began offering analytics for chemicals and fertilizer as part of a pilot program, allowing growers to conduct automated strip trials to analyze chemical and fertilizer inputs, and analyzing associated yield differences.
"Anytime you change your rate, anytime you change your product, you get full yield analysis, field-by-field, when you drop your data into FBN," Baron said.
Crop insurance. At Farmer 2 Farmer, FBN announced some additions to its crop insurance offerings. Starting as a pilot program, FBN anticipates offering a PRO (precision risk option) revenue protection program. FBN PRO RP is expected to be offered on a pilot basis for crop year 2020 in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, pending state insurance department approvals.
"In the last few years, with lower market prices, a lot of farmers are looking for alternative ways to increase their revenue coverage," said Eric Sorensen, FBN director of crop insurance. "A lot of growers are having a hard time doing that. Some companies have offered multi-peril supplemental coverage on top of their revenue protection. What hasn't been done so far is setting a rate based on the individual farm."
Lucas Strom, FBN vice president of business development notes the PRO RP program, similar to the FBN Finance program, leverages the farmer's data in the network.
"We're taking the farmer's data they've provided into the platform and using that information to create a very tailored product for their farm, meaning a rate that represents the risk on their farm and their fields," Strom said. "There are a lot of ways to quantify risk. In the automobile world, you can get discounts for having modern cars with airbags, four-wheel drive, all the factors that go into the different rating. We use things like soil type, soil quality and historical performance."