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FBN drops annual membership fee

Farmers Business Network aims to make its offerings available to all farmers, with no annual fee.

In a move to help farmers negotiate a tough business climate, Farmers Business Network (FBN) is making membership to its platform free for farmers. 

“We want farmers to make more money and be more profitable, and we don’t want a membership fee to prevent a farmer from ever signing up,” said Amol Deshpande, CEO and co-founder of FBN, in an interview with Successful Farming. “We are doing this to make FBN more accessible to farmers, and to try to do the right thing at a time when the market is tough.” 

Deshpande says farmer-members of FBN have told him 2020 is one of the worst years they’ve ever experienced. “There is a combination of factors that have caused prices of the most abundant commodities to be lower than breakeven,” he says. “We felt as we’re able to raise capital to move our business forward, the best way to use that capital is to invest in farmers and rural America.” 

In August, FBN announced the completion of its seventh round of venture capital funding, totaling $250 million. Since its start six years ago, FBN has gained 14,000 members, representing 45 million acres. In 2020, the company has seen a 42% surge in new members. Now, any U.S., Canadian, or Australian farmer can become a member for free and benefit from the company’s direct-to-farm commerce, crop marketing, and sustainability platform that redefines transparency, value, and convenience in the agriculture industry. Existing members will receive a credit for the value of their paid membership, which can be used in the online FBN Direct Store or toward a Market Advisory Pro Subscription.

FBN CEO Amol Deshpande and Jeff Broin, CEO of POET
Jeff Broin and Amol Deshpande
Free membership will enable farmers to explore which products and services will be most useful to their operation. Farmers will be able to shop online for inputs through FBN Direct and manage marketing contracts and bids through FBN’s Profit Center tool.

“We want to reward loyal members,” Deshpande says. “[Through FBN’s] crop marketing and premium programs, and access to financing – that’s how we’ll earn loyalty. 

“As a company we’ve made a double-down commitment to investing in our customers. Taking away the membership fee is a way to do that,” he adds. 

What you get for free

Farmer members also can take advantage of several free features of FBN membership, including: 

  • Price Transparency: Unlocking the prices other farmers pay for common chemical and seed inputs, helping farmers save on average 19% off the median price of chemicals and 10% off seed inputs. 
  • Seed Finder: Access to large-scale yield and price information on over 1,400 seed varieties, helping farmers on average increase their yield by 18 bushels per acre when they select the variety recommended by our platform. 
  • Free satellite imagery: Enabling farmers to monitor their fields to protect their yield from pest pressure, while saving roughly $2 per acre on satellite imagery fees. 
  • FBN Community: Connect and learn from a network of close to 14,000 farmers online, in our farmers-only discussion forum. 
  • Shop for insurance, financing, and brokering options.  

FBN says some farmers have saved up to $120,000 annually by leveraging the company’s solutions. 

However, Deshpande says farmers need to participate in FBN to gain access to the company’s unique reports and analysis. “Certain aspects of FBN, including mapping and satellite imagery, will be accessible to all members. Other aspects [the Seed Finder price and performance analytics, among others] require contribution to the FBN community. If you upload prices, for example, you get the seed trends report back,” he explains. 

Current FBN members also work with an area adviser who explains features of the website. That will continue, he adds. “I would love to have every farmer want to meet with a rep in the field, on the phone, or via Zoom. 

“If we had to do that every single day, all day, we would do it. I think that’s one of the highlights of the job – getting face time with the farmer,” Deshpande says. 

The company’s popular Farmer to Farmer annual meeting, typically held in Omaha each December, has been canceled for 2020 due to concerns about COVID-19. However, Deshpande says all members will be eligible to attend once the event resumes. 

An update on FBN offerings

Deshpande weighed in on several facets of FBN during his conversation with Successful Farming. Among them: 

  • FBN Health. Rolled out in 2018 after concerns were raised about the growing costs of health care, more than 700 farmers have signed up for the health care coverage. FBN Health was not intended to generate a profit, but to help members, he says. “We’ve affected a lot of lives positively. If we save one farm $5,000 on premiums and get them as good or better health care, that’s positive.” 
  • Gro Network becomes Gradable. Early this month, FBN launched the Gro Network to help farmers receive premiums for “low carbon” grain. They’ve since renamed this effort Gradable, and companies are ready to buy sustainably-grown products, Deshpande says. “We want to reward farmers for their practices. Our job is to facilitate data and science, and give farmers the opportunity to be recognized for their effort and get premiums. Farmers are doing good for the broader community, so why shouldn’t there be recognition for it?”

Read More: FBN Launches Gro Network to Link Farmers with Sustainable Buyers

  • Financial services. The company’s fast-growing Crop Marketing and Financial Services (CMFS) provides a host of solutions to farmers, including risk management, marketing, insurance, operating loans, and land and equipment loans. The CMFS is one way FBN is generating revenue; the other is the company’s offerings through FBN Direct.
  • FBN is local. Not much of the rhetoric – sometimes negative – surrounding FBN bothers Deshpande, but he abhors criticism that the company isn’t local. “I actually disagree with that. I think FBN is very local,” he says. The company has major employee hubs in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Bozeman, Montana. Plus, employees live strategically among members, and the company also has regional hubs in which seed and chemical are stored. Also, it will further bolster rural America with its forthcoming Community Builder program. “What it boils down to is we will create more affiliation in the communities we do business with,” Deshpande explains. “FBN is a technical business, but it’s a local business. We’re doing things in a way that is more aligned with the way future business is done.” 
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