Growers can contribute data to gain knowledge by working together, sharing experiencesWritten by Gayle Smith
Through a new agricultural business, farmers can contribute data from their operation, have it analyzed and gain knowledge about crop performance on other farms in their region. An independent company, Farmers Business Network, was created two years ago to offer farmers an independent source of data and crop performance, in addition to better prices for chemicals and fungicides.
Dennis Hoppe, a field operations specialist with Farmers Business Network, was on hand during the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic to show farmers the technology his company can offer them during an Ag Technology Seminar.
“I joined Farmers Business Network a year ago because it looked to fill some of the gaps I saw in agronomics, specific to information and data generated on a daily basis from growers,” he explained.
Inside the business
Farmers Business Network is the world’s largest geospacial agronomic network, with a goal of empowering farmers by analyzing data, networking the data and making it useful for the farmer.
“It is a direct farmer approach,” Hoppe said. “We leverage the power of the network on a large scale of data science with decision-support and marketing access.”
Hoppe compares his company to an agricultural version of Wikipedia.
The company is an independent farmer-to-farmer agronomic network that addresses agricultural information through data collection and evaluation.
“There are relatively few companies controlling what goes on within agriculture, whether its meat packers, traders, refiners, retail, equipment or inputs,” he explained. “A big proportion of that controls the information the growers have.”
“This company serves as a platform for all our information to come into one technology platform,” Hoppe continued. “We start layering every aspect of a farmer’s maps, putting power into the numbers going back out to the farmer. Instead of this information going back to big agricultural companies, we are putting it back into the hands of the farmer, becoming a farmer-first information control organization.”
The company has grown rapidly, exceeding 6 million unique acres throughout the country.
“We have a growth rate of 30 million acre events, and we are growing at a rate of 1.5 million acre events every week,” he said.
The company compares commodity pricing and equity of different products to make sure farmers are getting a fair value.
In one instance, Hoppe said the average price of glyphosate was $22 a gallon, with a fluctuation of plus or minus five dollars. Essentially, there was a 14 percent price difference between two farms located 30 miles apart in California and a 44 percent price difference between two farms 45 miles apart in Minnesota.
“That inequity is an unfair representation for the farmer,” Hoppe said. “It shouldn’t be that way when we’re talking molecules that do essentially the same thing.”
Some data is compiled by the company on a day-to-day basis.
“We only work with anonymous aggregate data. There is no identifiable information to ever tie it back to a single farmer,” he said.
Some of this data relates to crop practices, like seed performance. Members have access to data on variety performance, average yield, revenue per acre, seed cost per bag and a breakdown of seed cost per acre for their area or region. From this information, they can see which variety is the most popular and how it performs.
“Our goal as a company is to simplify, organize and analyze all farmers’ data and make it useful,” he told producers. “We put it into a simple format that is easy to understand. It can be broken down from there into area and region where we farm.”
Using this information, the farmer can see how his own fields are performing and compare that performance to other fields in the area.
“The data we use comes from the farmers,” Hoppe stated. “We don’t use data from the seed companies.”
He sees this data as a way to help the farmers determine if certain varieties are more efficient at using what’s in the soil, which can also help reduce nitrogen and phosphorus needs.
So far, Hoppe said farmers have found the information useful in making management decisions.
Not too long ago, the company also added benchmarking in regards to cost.
“We just released this new look that allows growers to honestly benchmark their costs for seed, fertilizer and chemicals and a breakdown of their overall return on investment. It is an anonymous comparison profitability-wise and helps farmers see in what areas they could improve,” Hoppe explained.
As the company moves forward, the farmer can also see his performance over time and look at trends over a number of years.
Farmers Business Network has just released the Intelligent Mobile Farming app that can be used in the field as a scouting tool. Hoppe said farmers can take pictures or make notes of any scouting event.
“Anything they jot down in the field will automatically be geospacially referenced. If they are in the center of that field, it automatically transfers back to the field and shows that information,” he explained.
Up to four people can be enrolled on an initial subscription and will have access to that data.
Hoppe said if enough growers in the network are recording a pest or fungus problem, alerts can be sent out by the company to anyone who is part of the network.
As members, farmers can also use the company’s custom farm delivery procurement.
“We don’t advise or make any recommendations,” Hoppe said. “But we can go directly to the suppliers and allow them to compete for business to help drive down our costs. If farmers will tell us what chemicals they use, we can procure it directly from the manufacturer and deliver it to the farm.”
“We also provide incredibly aggressive financing. If a farmer purchases something in March, and we find it cheaper in April, we give them a check for the savings,” he added. As members, growers also have access to daily updated prices for chemical and fungicides.
Currently, growers can join for a flat fee of $500 a year, which is guaranteed for five years.
“We clean, store and anonymously share data with everyone who is part of the network,” Hoppe told growers. “Everything is 100 percent anonymous, and data is never sold, shared or passed on to anyone.”
At the end of the year, the company also provides each farmer with a 20-page annual report for their operation that shows how they compare to other growers in their region.
“Farming should be fair to all farmers, and currently, it isn’t,” he said. “Data should be simple, and farmers deserve the best information they can get. It is our information, and we should be able to do as much as we can with it.”