Launched last year in the US, the Farmers’ Business Network (FBN) allows farmers to pool information from the arrays of sensors and computers used in modern crop production. Data is analysed by computers in the Internet cloud to extract insights on farming – anything from which seeds grow best in which soil to optimising irrigation tactics or anticipating weather patterns.
FBN product manager Danny Turkovich says that farmers face many decisions on planting dates, seed treatments, how to deal with pests and how to apply chemicals. Not long ago, farmers relied mostly on seed or fertiliser companies for this information, but these sources can be biased.
FBN integrates all the information gathered from its members, offering anonymous aggregated data which is shared by everyone.
Comparing – and improving
FBN has now spread to farms in 17 states. Annual membership costs $500 (R6 500). FBN also features
benchmarks, enabling any farmer to compare his operation with the best. This information is not tied to any specific company so it is likely to be objective and straightforward.
Moreover, each farmer who joins the network makes it more effective. “Farmers have been
advising each other for thousands of years. FBN gives them a platform to do so with real information on a massive scale, so they can make the most informed decisions,” says co-founder
Charles Baron. “It’s about putting the farmers first.”
Funding for ‘ag ri tech’
Recently, FBN announced that it had received millions of dollars in funding from Google Ventures. It’s part of a trend that’s seeing more and more companies investing in agricultural technology.
According to Rob Leclerc, co-founder of AgFunder.com, $2,36 billion (R30 billion) was pumped into agricultural technology last year (some $2,1 billion of which went
to ‘clean technology’).
“The funding from Google will allow us to reach even more farmers in more crops, so they can
make the best decisions fortheir land,” says Baron.