FBN Changes Business: Membership Free, More Expansion to Come

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On Tuesday, Farmers’ Business Network (FBN) announced it would remove membership fees for all farmers, eliminating its $700 per year subscription. The company says free members will have access to a select range of products and services including: Price Transparency, Seed Finder, satellite imagery, FBN Community and have the option to shop for insurance, financing and brokering options.

“We’ve had some good fortune with our recent round of funding and it was clear investing back in our customer and their communities was the right move,” says Amol Deshpande, FBN CEO. “We don’t want to be hitting the credit card of a farmer with a membership cost at a time where it’s tough to breakeven.”

While the company removed its financial subscription, it remains a “contributory, farmer-driven platform.” What this means is data contribution, while not a requirement to be a member, is required to access certain features including Seed Finder price and performance analytics.

“I never figured there was enough money generated from membership fees, so I’m not surprised to hear this,” says Pat Duncanson, Minnesota farmer who has been a member of FBN for about five years. “Part of their approach to quality data was to attract quantity of data. The bigger pool to work from means the poor data almost weeds itself out.”

Farmers who are current paying members will have a credit put on their FBN account for a portion of their membership fee. This can be used on any of the paid services the company provides.

FBN Membership

“The renewals and new customers we charged membership fees generated revenue—so this new initiative is actually a cost to us,” Deshpande says.

The company has reported various numbers for current membership. It first reported more than 10,000 members in 2020, and in August FBN’s own news release said it had 12,000 members. Now, Deshpande says the total is 14,000. But regardless of what the number may be, the company has much bigger goals. With its expansion into Canada two years ago and Australia earlier this year, it is eyeing a member number beyond what it’s been able to achieve with a paid subscription model.

“Given we’re only at 14,000 member farmers and there’s two million farmers in the markets that we’re playing in, there’s a long way to go,” Deshpande says. “By removing the paywall we think we have a better shot at showing that broader audience what we have while also giving our existing members back more value.”

In terms of in-field representatives, he says there will be no cuts in service. “In fact, we’re hiring hundreds of people over the next 12 months,” Deshpande explains.

In August, the company completed a fundraising round totaling $250 million, which brought in new investors as well as included previous investors.

FBN’s Future and Current Business

Without its subscription revenues, Deshpande says the company is specifically targeting growth in four areas: e-commerce, seed genetics, chemical registrations as well as crop marketing and financial services.

“We are specifically innovating in the FBN Direct inputs space and aggressively in our own seed genetics, chemical registrations and biological products,” Deshpande says. “So, there’s a lot of investment going into R&D, IP, logistics and supply chain around our customer experience.”

For example, public records show that in September 2019 FBN invested in purchasing other, smaller genetic and research companies to expand their offerings. These companies include: CRD Advisors, Pegasus Acquisition Subsidiary, Phenix Genetics and R. Foley Services.

“Their investment back into the company I see as providing a valuable alternative to the multi-nationals, but they’re swimming against the current,” Duncanson says. “In the seed business [for example] there is so much consolidation.”

While it’s public information, FBN made the decision not to publicly announce these acquisitions, as well as others they have and continue to make. Deshpande says while they’re dedicated to transparency, they’re strategic about how they announce new business ventures.

“Our strategy is to gain enough access to intellectual properties that we don’t have to have dependence on any of the major players who are clearly colluding to keep us out of the market,” Deshpande explains. “There’s a lot of deals and opportunities that we’ve done that we’ve never announced. It’s risky for our business to let the industry know what we are doing because they collude to keep us out of the market.

“If we don’t have to let them know then we won’t and that’s why we keep a lot of these things [mergers, acquisitions] confidential,” he adds. “The other reason is maybe it’s just too premature to announce yet, maybe the partner, product of business isn’t ready for the market yet so there’s not much reason to talk about it.”