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Start-Up Spotlight: Tillable
When a farm comes up for rent in your community, how many contenders are there to rent it? More than you think, says this start-up cofounder.
“Landowners often think there are only two or three potential renters of their farm,” says Corbett Kull, CEO of a start-up called Tillable. “Our experience shows the demand to rent farmland is much higher than that. Often there are 15 to 20 farmers who are interested.”
The problem is that there’s no good way for landowners to easily rent their land. The lack of knowledge is just as serious for farmers who often don’t know when a piece of ground is available for rent.
That’s why Kull and his partner, Jim Pines, created Tillable. Their goal is to help landowners get a fair rent for their farmland and help farmers find more land to expand their operations through a hassle-free lease.
how it works
With Tillable’s Hassle-Free Lease option, the company leases land directly from landowners. Landowners then choose to lease their land to Tillable for either one or three years beginning in the 2020 growing season.
After the landowner and Tillable come to an agreement, Tillable pays the landowner for the duration of the lease and then finds a farmer, or works with the existing one, to grow on the land. Tillable also tracks the farmland’s performance over time, ultimately reporting that data to the landowner. Kull says that this helps maintain the land’s long-term value.
Farmers looking to rent can create a profile with experience, current size, goals, tillage practices, machinery inventory, and more. They can also choose to be notified when a farm that meets their rental criteria is listed.
When farmers see a piece of ground they’d like to rent, they decide how much money they’re willing to offer and do so on the Tillable platform. It’s a blind offer at that point – one farmer can’t see what another farmer is offering. Tillable reviews the offers and picks the renter that best meets their criteria.
It’s not an auction, and highest bidder does not necessarily win. The parties can negotiate final details of the lease, including the final rental rate.
For landowners, Kull sees several advantages.
• Get paid a fair rent. By combining market data on farmland pricing with offers made on the platform, Tillable can better understand what fair market value is and offer that to landowners.
• Reduced risk of farmland ownership. Because Tillable oversees the farmland lease and pays the full rent to the landowner upfront, landowners don’t have to worry about fluctuating commodity prices or severe weather.
• Legally reviewed leases. Tillable offers a standard lease, which the two parties can tweak once they get together.
• Automated processing. Tillable collects and disburses payments.
Kull sees equal benefits for farmers.
• Access to land. It can be chosen by location, quality, or other criteria.
• Marketing. A farm résumé is presented to landowners.
• Simplified back office functions. Lease payments and farm data to landowners can happen automatically.
Tillable can also help young farmers, Kull says. “They often think they don’t get a fair shot because landowners only know the farmers who have been around a long time. Some landowners want to help young farmers, but aren’t always aware of them. Tillable solves that.”
Kull grew up in southern Illinois but not on a farm. Rather, he connected to farming through a company he created called 640 Labs, a precision farming platform that collects, analyzes, and distributes data. It was acquired by The Climate Corporation in 2014. Kull was a senior director until 2017.
“A friend of mine inherited a farm from his grandmother,” Kull explains. “He didn’t know a lot about farming, so he called me. He had a farmer renting it, but he didn’t know if it was the right farmer or the right rental rate.”
Intrigued, Kull started to investigate. “What I found was that 40% of farmland in the U.S. is rented. Until now, there was no way for landowners and farmers to meet except maybe at the coffee shop,” he says.
Tillable bridges that gap. Founded in 2017, it already has 7,000 farmers and landowners who have created accounts, with 50,000 acres listed for rent. That number is growing every week.
Farmers pay nothing to create an account. If you sign a lease and rent a farm through Tillable, a fee of two percent of the gross rent for that farm applies.
About the Company
Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois
Founders: Corbett Kull and
Background: Tillable was created when Corbett Kull saw there was no digital way to connect landowners and farmers, and no good system of price discovery for farmland rental rates.
Funding: Recently raised $8.25 million in a Series A round.