Farmers Business Network, maker of a software platform that helps farmers across the country pool data, announced today that it has raised a $110 million Series D round. The round was led most notably by Temasek, Singapore’s state investment firm. Other participants included returning investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and GV (formerly Google Ventures). The series D round brings the total amount raised by Farmers Business Network to more than $194 million.
The company was launched in 2014, and its leadership team is well-connected within Silicon Valley. Cofounder and CEO Amol Deshpande was formerly a partner at KPCB, and cofounder and VP of product Charles Baron previously led investment initiatives in alternative energy at Google. That background has enabled Farmers Business Network to secure a large amount of venture capital in a field that’s traditionally been overlooked by VC firms. According to AgFunder, an online investment platform for ag tech startups, venture capitalists invested $3.2 billion in agtech startups during all of 2016.
A membership to Farmers Business Network costs farmers $600 a year. Customers then get access to three different types of services: an analytics platform, where farmers can submit information on things like seed performance and fertilizer cost; an ecommerce platform, where farmers can buy chemicals, seeds, and fertilizers; and a crop marketing platform that allows farmers to manage bids from potential buyers.
Essentially, what Farmers Business Network is doing is collecting crowdsourced information for farmers in one place. But Baron explained that up until now, doing so had been difficult, due to consolidation in the seed and agrichemical industry. Baron’s brother-in-law is a farmer, while Deshpande worked on agtech investments for KPCB. Baron says that the idea for Farmers Business Network came to them while they were meeting with various farmers across the country, including three farmers in Illinois who essentially compared price points with one another, though without the help of a platform like Farmers Business Network.
According to Baron, Monsanto and Dupont “control over 70 percent of the corn and soybean seed market.” That alone limits the variety of seeds farmers have access to. Additionally, Baron says that many farm retailers — who sell seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals that often come from one of these big players — don’t post their prices online. That means farmers often have to go into the store in order to find out what the retail price is. This leaves room for price discrepancies, as retailers may try to sell a farmer on a bundled package, or offer ad hoc discounts.
“We’ve found farmers paying sometimes as much as two or three times [more] for the same product,” Baron told VentureBeat.
Baron says that it has nearly 5,000 member farms, which account for more than 16 million acres of farmland between them. The company has more than 200 employees, mostly split between its San Carlos office and its national operations center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Rob Leclerc, cofounder and CEO of AgFunder, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that, as of now, Farmers Business Network remains relatively unchallenged.
“If you talk to VPs and heads of business development [of incumbent companies], Farmers Business Network is on their radar,” Leclerc said. ” I don’t think they really have a solution today… in many cases for different groups to compete with Farmers Business Network they’re going to have to somehow cannibalize what they’re doing — that’s going to be challenging for these players to figure out.”
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