In 2014, a group of farmers gathered to create an independent industry data and analytics source. With each farm joining the Farmers Business Network (FBN), the community receives more accurate information and better decision-making capability on farm operations and seed and crop protection.
And with more than 43,000 farmers and 98 million network acres, FBN is well on its way to achieving its goal of market transparency and maximized prosperity for family farmers.
The startup offers an e-commerce platform for convenient, direct-to-farm delivery of agricultural products (FBN Direct); access to loans and financing for farm operations (FBN Finance); market advisory and risk management services for better insight on sales; and crop, livestock, and health insurance coverage.
Last November, FBN raised $300 million in its Series G round, bringing its total valuation to $3.9 billion, more than double what it had valued a year earlier. FBN said it planned to use the funds to invest in technology, expand platforms like FBN Direct and FBN Financial, and hire more than 350 people. Fidelity Investments led the round, with other participants from old investors, like BlackRock and new investors.
However, equity investment from Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) through its venture capital arm, ADM Ventures, was the most groundbreaking. It marks the “first time one of the absolute largest grain buyers in the world gets behind the movement we’ve been creating with farmers,” Charles Baron, co-founder, and chief innovation officer of FBN, explained to AgFunder News. Chicago-based ADM has 118 years of experience since it was founded as a regional linseed oil company in 1902. It now aims to “unlock the power of nature” by providing human and animal nutrition solutions across six continents. The conglomerate works with farmers and members of its supply chain to create healthy nutrition products and encourage the adoption of sustainable practices. These include organic growing and product sourcing, planting cover crops, and responsible and integrated pesticide management.
Along with the investment came a non-binding letter of intent for the two organizations to partner up in various ways, combining FBN’s e-commerce and analytics platforms with ADM’s experience and scale in the agricultural supply chain. Together, the two will research and develop new offerings, such as fertilizers, seed traits, and crop protection solutions. As Amol Deshpande, co-founder, and CEO of FBN, explained, “[t]his partnership enables us to double down on putting farmers first by further investing in technologies that lower costs, improve transparency, and create local community development opportunities in rural areas.” FBN farmers will gain the ability to buy ADM’s products on FBN Direct conveniently. They may also take advantage of ADM’s physical distribution network, including 25 facilities for logistics and warehousing. The plan is for these farmers not just to know when their shipments will arrive but also to have access to logistics akin to an agricultural Amazon Prime.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the partnership centers on FBN’s commercial services arm, the Gradable integrated platform, which aims to modernize the farm business management process and the agricultural supply chain.
Gradable is an efficient, one-stop shop for sustainability solutions, technology, and financial services in a typically fragmented market. It offers programs to help farmers adopt regenerative practices, as well as a platform to monetize them: they can sell the valuable outputs at a premium to customers itching for environmentally-friendly products. Commercial agriculture businesses are connected to those farmers whose carbon footprints are measured and verified; these buyers can then easily purchase the resulting grain or carbon offsets. In the words of Greg Morris, president of ADM’s Ag Service and Oilseeds business, “Traditional business is optimized for cost and capital — businesses of the future need to optimize cost, capital, and carbon.”
In the initial deal in November 2021, 30,000 FBN farmers gained the ability to sell grain to ADM’s network through Gradable. In July, FBN and ADM signed an agreement to expand access to 55,000 growers in North America by enabling ADM farmers to sell grain through the platform easily. As Deshpande explained in the press release, “FBN’s Gradable is not only the major digital innovation farmers need to identify opportunities to drive profitability, but it is also the carbon accounting system upon which a low-carbon ag economy can be built, with the potential to decarbonize the food and fuel supply chains on a gigaton scale.” The partnership, in other words, could be revolutionary.