Farmers Business Network (FBN) seems like a really big help for farmers, giving them more power and a more level playing field for their farm business success. There is only one catch; FBN is not owned by farmers.
For the first time in history, farmers have a chance to gain an information edge over their suppliers.
In farming practice, the promising concept of precision farming keeps getting bogged down in processing and interpreting data. There is so much data being collected, and the amount of data being generated on farms is growing exponentially every year. Soil sensors and many other types of sensors are being added to tractors and other implements, for example. This in addition to the growing supply of environmental and crop health data coming in from drones, satellites, weather stations and more.
Growers must climb a huge mountain to get meaningful conclusions from processing all that data being collected and analyzed through dozens of different software systems that often communicate poorly with each other.
In addition, there is another problem: conflicts of interest. Current platforms that collect farmers’ data and process it into crop recommendations, for example, are usually owned by one or more companies. These private platforms integrate only a limited number of technologies and tools and are using the data themselves as well as analyzing it to some extent for farmers.
So it’s fair to ask whether their algorithms (an uncontrollable black box to laymen) that process the data are really tuned to maximize profits for farmers. Deeper still, some private platforms drive sales of specific crop inputs (seed, fertilizer and crop protection products) rather than making unbiased recommendations that put farmers’ interests first.
FBN proves that this can be done differently. This North American company started in 2014 as an online site where members could compare prices for seed varieties and other inputs. But soon FBN also started voluntary collection of data from their farmer-members, and processing that data for various purposes such as task maps for variable fertilizer application.
That is, FBN realized that within the enormous pile of aggregated data they were gathering every day shines the gold for farmers.
Through analysis of huge amounts of shared data, FBN members can reduce costs and maximise crop performance and profits. They can see, for instance, which varieties perform best for their farm conditions or which brand or type of planter delivers the best results.
The reason why this very concept is now working so successfully on a large scale with US grain growers is because almost all of them have modern combines that can record yields; a necessity for benchmarking to assess the effects of different cultivation measures. FBN now also offers its own seed varieties in some jurisdictions, lending services and more.
With all these services stemming from the golden analysis of aggregated data, FBN’s membership has grown rapidly. In May 2021, FNB counted 25,000 farmers farming 70 million hectares in the US, Australia and Canada. This spring, it had risen to 43,000 farmers operating 98 million hectares.
It is not hard to imagine that in the years to come, FBN will increase in power to the point where it will monopolize farm data analysis and many other aspects of farm business operation. Count on the big equipment and crop input companies to watch FBN’s exponential growth closely and one legal battle has already occurred.
What if the current owners sell off FBN to a multinational company or take FBN public?
Farmers Business Network seems like a really big help for farmers, giving them more power and a more level playing field for their farm business success. There is only one catch; FBN is not owned by farmers. What if the current owners sell off FBN to a multinational company or take FBN public? FBN’s members should therefore quickly ask themselves whether they should become shareholders in FBN themselves, or set up a farmers’ data cooperative…before it is too late.
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