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Sights and Sounds From Farmers Business Network’s Farmer2Farmer

What we heard, learned, and took away from FBN’s 4th annual event.

Feliciano Paredes was nervous and understandably so. 

He was the first of six entrepreneurs selected to participate in the inaugural Start-Up Competition at Farmer2Farmer, the annual convention and trade show for members of Farmer’s Business Network. Paredes, who founded Ag Help Corporation with his two brothers, explained to a panel of six judges how his company can help bridge the gap between farms that need temporary labor and temporary laborers looking for work.

The Michigan native knocked it out of the park.

As a youth, Paredes was a temporary worker, traveling from Texas to Michigan. He told the farmer audience and judges there was nothing so frustrating as lining up a job, only to arrive at the job and find the spots had been taken by another group of workers.

With Ag Help, employers can post jobs and interview potential workers, while potential employees can complete profiles and participate in online conversations with employers. More than 70 employers have bought subscriptions to post jobs on the site, and Paredes anticipates that more are coming.

Paredes’ story, and his brief demonstration of the Ag Help website and accompanying App, earned a round of cheers and thunderstick applause from FBN members in the audience.

At the end of the competition, however, the judges selected another entrepreneur as its champion. AGR Robotics – and its autonomous Burro cargo hauler – earned the honor of being hosted on the FBN Direct website for a year. Another entrepreneur, Bogo and its SmartCore autonomous soil-sampling machine, won the Farmer’s Choice honor.

Other finalists in the Start-Up Competition included:

  • Centaur Ag - Building a Global, Postharvest Quality Chain
  • FeedX - We Empower Farmers by Bringing the Ag Supply Industry Online
  • Kiwi Technologies - KiwiTech’s unique program for start-ups includes technology support, investment, go-to-market support, and mentoring. Entrepreneurs are enabled to transform their ideas into cutting-edge products.

The Start-Up Competition is one way Farmer2Farmer differs from other farm meetings. More than 2,500 people attended the event, held in the CHI Health Center in Omaha. The event is part trade show, part learning opportunities, and lots of talk about Farmers Business Network, the start-up company that encourages farmers to “Take Control of the Farm in 2019.”

In its four years of existence, FBN has – rightly or wrongly – received both accolades and criticism for being a disruptor in the competitive farm input marketplace. Those who pay the $750 annual membership fee are able to shop from an online inventory of crop inputs, often at prices discounted to local providers. In recent years, the company has added a lineup of corn and soybean seeds, and last week it announced it would add wheat, sorghum, and alfalfa to the F2F Genetics Network portfolio. In 2018, FBN took on insurance and economics, bringing marketing services, crop insurance, and health insurance products to its members. Details of the latter were announced at F2F, to the wide acclaim of many members who believe the soaring cost of health insurance could drive them out of business. 

The company is flush with both human and financial capital. More than 265 employees work for FBN, most of whom are in its Santa Clara home office and the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, field office. To date, venture capitalists have pumped nearly $194 million into the company, according to Crunchbase.com.

Speakers with clout

Certainly, that much cash helps to bring in top-notch speakers and information to Farmer2Farmer.

Sully Sullenberger
Captain Sully Sullenberger, who piloted a failing U.S. Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, encouraged farmers, explaining that he had prepared for that one ill-fated flight his entire professional career, repeatedly drilling safety precautions and procedures to the entire industry. He amassed more than 20,000 flight hours in his 42-year career, learning to “master my craft and master myself,” he says.

Sullenberger closed his kickoff keynote with a challenge to farmers:

“At the end of your life, ask yourself: Did I make a difference? I hope your answer will be yes.”  

He received a standing ovation before and after he spoke.

Adam Savage, one of the hosts of MythBusters, the popular television series on the Discovery Channel, also was a hit with attendees.

Adam Savage / MythBusters

Over 14 seasons, Savage and his partner, Jamie Hyneman, built one of the nation’s most popular shows among men, mainly by building and blowing up stuff, proving and disproving theories along the way. Savage mentioned – with roaring approval from a rural crowd – that his grandfather grew up on a North Dakota farm. He reckons more than 850 explosions occurred while Savage and Hyneman hosted the series.

When asked by the audience how to fix problems he faces as a craftsman – something farmers face all too often – Savage says he prefers to sketch out the problem, or make a list of how a machine should go together. Or, tackle easy tasks first. “Solve a problem by doing busy work while working on other parts of the problem,” he says.

Working with your hands is an important part of humanity, the father of two adds.

“If we’re going to survive as a species, we need to teach our children how to do things and how to build things. That’s how they learn to think for themselves,” he says.

Farmer networking

A hallmark of F2F is the opportunity to visit with fellow farmers. More than 2,500 producers were on-sight from more than 40 states and Canada. Collectively, they farm nearly 30 million acres, according to CEO Charles Baron. 

Charles Baron/Farmers Business Network

Declining farm income is on the minds of growers, as income is down 46% since 2013. A difficult 2018, in which farmers across the Midwest fought too much rain in spring and fall, plus unknown pricing due to tariffs, has prompted interest in different enterprises.

During FBN’s “Crop Circles” – informal roundtables of farmers from across the nation and representing various enterprises – one northeast Iowa farmer admits he is interested in diving into organic corn and soybean production. “My motivation is $9 corn and $25 soybeans,” he says.

Dozens of folks attended sessions on organic farming, trying to carve a niche out of the growing market. Other sessions focused on social media, ethanol’s importance to agriculture, crop markeing, conventional crop production, soil health, marketing, and more.  

Overheard

“Nobody’s gonna look after you but you.” – Nebraska farmer, when asked about loyalty to his local agriculture provider vs. buying inputs from FBN.

“The best things we’ve grown in rural America are our kids.” – Kansas farmer, commenting on the common refrain that farm kids are often encouraged to leave rural America and not return to their hometowns.

“I farm because I’m good at it and I enjoy it and I love it.” – Jim Piling, Iowa farmer, when asked “Why do you farm?”

Tweets of the Week

Regenerative agriculture – doing more with less – was one of the hottest topics at F2F, with Bieber, a South Dakota farmer, and other farmers on a Regenerative Agriculture Panel Discussion.

 

Fair point.

Instagram of the Week

Canada’s FBN members looked cooler than the U.S. members.

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