Price transparency promised

Farmers Business Network started operating in Canada in December and says it has already signed up members who farm more than 1.5 million acres

ANAHEIM, Calif. — A U.S. company promises to bring chemical and fertilizer price transparency to Canada.

Farmers Business Network (FBN) launched in Canada in December and has already signed up members who farm more than 1.5 million acres of cropland combined.

Charles Baron, cofounder of the business, describes FBN as a farmer-to-farmer network where growers share data with one another about agronomics, precision agriculture and what they are paying for seed, chemical and fertilizer in their area.

Farmers can use the network to see the range of prices being paid for a variety of inputs and if they want they can buy inputs directly from FBN, which does bulk buying on behalf of its members.

“You can see exactly what you’re going to pay for inputs,” Baron said during an interview at the 2018 Commodity Classic.

“You get all the comfort of the programs and what you’re used to doing but it’s online and it’s no haggle and it’s totally transparent.”

FBN claims it can reduce the price of inputs by shipping direct to the customer, cutting out middleman expenses, such as sales commissions and retail costs. Plus, there are the savings associated with knowing what other farmers are paying across the country.

“By creating transparent pricing, we’ve been able to lower grower costs massively, not just FBN members but actually the whole industry,” said Baron.

One FBN member in the U.S. saved $185,000 on his annual chemical and fertilizer bill by using the network.

“They realized how out of whack their local market was,” he said.

“Without them being able to compare to what a national market truly was for those products they had no idea how bad they were getting hosed for a long time.”

FBN has grown rapidly since its launch in 2015. It has more than 6,000 farmers and more than 21 million acres signed up in the U.S. The company has raised US$200 million in funding.

The FBN booth at the Commodity Classic trade show was about the same size as some of the big players in the crop input sector such as Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta.

The company sells about 1,000 branded and generic products in the U.S. There are several dozen products available in Canada but the offerings will soon grow to match the quantity available in the U.S. product line.

There is a team of five people working in Canada, mainly in Saskatchewan and Alberta but the company is hiring and plans to rapidly expand its sales force north of the border.

Membership is a flat fee of $800. It is the same for a 1,000-acre farm as a 100,000-acre farm.

Canadian farmers currently have access to the network’s seed finder program, which provides real world yield results on a variety of seeds.

They can also use the benchmarking program to compare yields with other farmers using factors such as nitrogen application, plant population, rainfall, soil quality and tillage practices. In the U.S., the company has processed 135 million acres of data.

“We don’t sell data or do anything like that. It’s all shared anonymously among the growers,” said Baron.

“By doing that, you turn the world into a plot trial.”

FBN is getting into crop marketing in the U.S., a program that will be available in Canada later this year in time for contracting 2019 acres. In the U.S., the company is helping its members capture price premiums for crops like canola, pulses and specialty crops.

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