When Tillable CEO Corbett Kull reflects on the series of events that led to Climate Corporation terminating an in-progress partnership with the agtech startup, he says “It took on a life of its own.”
In early 2020, Tillable used addresses that were aggregated from local assessors’ offices to mail marketing letters targeting non-operator landowners.
“One of the most effective ways to communicate with landowners is mail,” Kull says. “And some of the letters we sent ended up being received by farmers.”
Then, some of those farmers posted to social media and online discussion boards reacting to the unsolicited land rental offers.
“And there was a lot of information put out there that simply was not factual,” Kull says. “It didn’t matter what we said, because people didn’t believe us.”
The following Tuesday, Kull went on AgriTalk radio. Seven days after Climate terminated their partnership, Kull gave an interview to AgWeb/AgPro during which he reflected on what happened and shared what’s next for Tillable.
Current and future data sources
Kull reiterated the company uses publicly available data, and the data connectivity between Climate and Tillable was never completed.
"The interface between Climate and Tillable was never fully implemented," Kull says. "One farmer granted Tillable access to their Climate FieldView data for the purpose of testing and validating the API flow. Climate never gave us data, and we never gave Climate any data."
Current data sources used by Tillable include USDA data, information from local assessor offices, university data on cash rents, and soils maps.
Kull says in the future, the company is “likely” to consider adding weather data, commodity price data, satellite imagery and other remote sensing data.
“Satellite imagery is the most scalable, and least expensive, of any kind of remote sensing data, so it does fit well for our use,” he says.
When asked if they are working with any other ag specific platform, and specifically John Deere Operations Center, he said “We’re not in any active discussions with other platforms.”
Some farmers who received letters were alarmed by the rental offer either being too high, too low or too close for comfort to their current rate. The variance spurred discussion about the quality of data being used in the marketing campaign.
“It’s possible certain farms could have anomalies or issues associated with them that were not factored into those offers. And it’s important to point out that what a farmer feels like is fair market value is subjective,” Kull says. “Our goal is to make sure the offers are indicative of what a landowner could make. The intent was for those offers to be legitimate, and we’ll look at them closely when a landowner expresses interest.”
Record number of sign ups
“We obviously need to be more careful in our marketing that is going to landowners,” he says. “This will require some additional work on our side, and something we will be sensitive to. We’ll use whatever data we can to avoid sending letters to farmers.”
He also says that anytime someone contacts the company and asks to be removed from their marketing list, they honor that.
But this amount of attention did have an unintentional positive consequence.
“We had a record number of farmers sign up in the last two weeks,” he says.
Kull also points to examples of retired farmers now signed up on the platform as landowners looking for new operators.
“We have been successful with retiring farmers because they see it as a better way to rent their land,” he says.
Currently, the company has hundreds of thousands of acres on its platform—primarily in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. Kull also reports the platform has more than 12,000 farmers registered.
What makes Tillable different than any other agtech startup
“If people don’t understand how Tillable works, or the way we’re using data, we’re happy to talk to you,” Kull says.
He thinks part of the reason for the misinformation is that Tillable is aiming to serve a different audience than most ag companies.
“Our goal is take care of the farmland. We’re starting with the land, and then helping the landowner by facilitating how they can work with farmers better,” he says. “I have no interest in being a data broker. Our goal is to care take of the farmland. And if we don’t monitor what’s taking place on the farm, how do we know that the land is being taken care of?”
Kull explains the intention of the now canceled Climate FIeldView partnership was to enable farmers to share their data with landlords in ways they are already doing.
“In some respects, Tillable does what farmers already do when they share a yield map with a landlord,” he says. “And it’s important to note with any data sharing the farmer has to give explicit approval, “I will share this farm’s data with this entity,” because there’s no blanket sharing or blanket approval in that I know of in the Climate system or any other ag platform.”
What’s next for Tillable?
“The reaction to all of this shows the need in the marketplace for better tools to manage farmland,” he says. “Our large institutional landowner groups and other partners have shown great support.”