Continued interest in farm data and information is shown best in continued investment in innovative companies

Continued interest in farm data and information is shown best in continued investment in innovative companies.

Funding for tech firm shows confidence in approach

Recent investment in Farmers Edge demonstrates that data companies still of interest to investors.

Just before the summer solstice, Farmers Edge announced it was getting a cash infusion of CAD $3.2 million (about $2.46 million US) from Osmington, an early investor in the data management and crop modeling firm. "It's a little more powder in the keg for us," says Wade Barnes, president and CEO, of the Canada-based tech firm. "We weren't looking for funding, it was an option Osmington had in our first deal, and they exercised it."

This investor, Osmington, isn't usually focusing on tech companies as Lawrence Zucker, CEO, explains. "We're investing in farmland in Canada and partnering with farmers to manage the land," he says. "Other farmers told [Farmers Edge] about us, and we connected."

The story goes that Osmington was at first interested in Farmers Edge, but perhaps not convinced the products and services were right for the market. Zucker says Barnes approached him two years ago and they talked. The story was that Farmers Edge created farm intelligence and had the farm expertise to make moves based on collected data.

Due diligence is the secret to successful investing and Zucker thought Barnes and Farmers Edge was on the right track, but the best way to explore that was to connect Famers Edge with one the farmers Osmington worked with. "We went to our largest farm partner, who farms 12,000 acres in Manitoba," Zucker says.

He explains that this producer - a top manager - is also a cynic who views new ideas with a jaundiced eye. The idea? If Farmers Edge could convince this tough customer that their approach had merit, then Osmington could consider an investment. After a three-hour presentation by Farmers Edge, where the farmer was shown information about opportunities and savings on expenses his farm could have experienced using their program, the farmer had one question: Where do I sign?

"The farmer has to buy into the idea," Zucker says. And Osmington did too. The most recent investment was part of the original deal, allowing Osmington to exercise an option to gain more shares in the fledgling tech company.

"We did not want to let the option lapse, we see a lot of upside in this company, and we have another option in 2017, and we're likely to invest then too," Zucker remarks.

Osmington had never invested in an ag technology company. He notes that this "out of the box" move for the investment firm, which focuses mainly on acquiring land, is unusual. "There were a few large competitors even at that time, and a lot of [companies] are popping up," Zucker says. "None of them seem to be able to provide the full farm solution that Farmers Edge has, including their equipment agnostic approach and the fact that its easy to use."

 

Farmers Edge looking ahead

The Canada-based Farmers Edge continues to expand, adding support in the United States as it works to grow market share. To help facilitate this growth, 40-year DuPont veteran, Jim Borel, recently joined the Farmers Edge to help oversee strategic direction of Farmers Edge.

Company CEO Barnes explains that as the company expands it continues to enhance and build on its data tech too, with one key goal in mind - crop modeling.

"Modeling the crop is part of it, we're gathering information and building a predictive crop model," Barnes says. That involves essentially growing a crop in the computer and with weather data, predictive crop information, and other key elements of information - like planting date and soil type the model can be "incredibly accurate."

This is not easy undertaking, and the crop models under construction by all the major data players keep getting more refined. Barnes says it will one day be possible for a farmer to be sitting in a fishing boat on a lake and looking at the crop model decide - with solid return on investment - whether to apply a product like a fungicide or not.

For Farmers Edge, the latest financial boost gets plowed back into the company. A true predictive crop model requires a lot of information and computer number crunching to work. Initial work on aggregating information from farmers to do deep analysis has proved interesting too.

"We did an analysis of 500 harvesters around fuel consumption and fuel efficiency, and we saw interesting things. Not naming equipment types, we saw glaring differences between what we thought were fairly similar harvesters from different brands," Barnes says. "Farmers were surprised too."

The march to make all that farm data pay off continues. And it appears investors are still interested.

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