Launched in 1998, Ag Connections was one of the first software programs designed specifically to help farmers manage their operations through cloud-based data storage and analysis. Its main product Land.db helps farmers creates crop plans with their agronomic consultants, manages their inventory, and helps them to understand the field-level profitability of their operations. It also helps with regulatory compliance, land mapping, and decision-making with a multi-user interface.
After a multi-year contract with Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness acquired Ag Connections in October last year. We caught up with Rick Murdock, co-founder of Ag Connections, to find out more about the acquisition, and the journey to that point.
When did Ag Connections first launch?
Pete Clark and I started it in 1998 and initially we hired just one software developer. Both of us came from a background in agriculture; we both worked in ag retail, and were in our early forties when we started Ag Connections. The fact that we were already subject matter experts in crop production agriculture contributed to our success, and also our experience managing hundreds of employees and fleets of equipment
Why did you launch Ag Connections, and what does it do?
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We started building our own software platform at the ag retailer we worked at as a tool to help us sit down with growers when they were planning out their crop production needs for the year. When that company was bought out, they cut our $3k budget for software development as they didn’t think it had any value. We saw tremendous value, so we resigned a few weeks later and started taking on tech consulting work and then started to develop our own software and IP.
We knew that there was big demand from farm managers, to understand exactly what inputs they were using to help them with their daily management, and also document what was going on in the field. We realized that a lot of the spatial precision ag products would take a long time for farmers to adopt. We knew that all growers needed foundational field level crop production software systems to know their numbers and report on the crop.
Our flagship technology, Land.db, is a secure, cloud-based farm management software that addresses these growers’ needs by helping digitally organize farm data across devices. Land.db empowers the grower with data ownership and helps them understand profitability at a field level. Our user-friendly software also creates crop plans with an operations’ agronomic advisor and manages on-farm inventory on an ongoing basis.
What investment backing did you have before you were acquired by Syngenta?
When we started the business, we used our homes and personal assets, as well as a consulting contract with Syngenta, as collateral to get a line of credit from our local bank Murray Bank. Our local bank was a true business partner in our growth as this is not a traditional funding route for a software company. When we had the acquisition by Syngenta finalized, we met the board of directors at the bank and thanked them for the last 17 years of support. I’m pretty sure we were their first ever customer to thank them for helping us grow our business.
How did the acquisition by Syngenta come about?
The collaboration started with Novartis, which then merged with AstraZeneca to become Syngenta in 2001. With Novartis we were using precision ag tools to measure the performance of their new crop protection products, and were consulting with local retailers and agronomists on how to measure what they were doing in the field. We funded our software development though revenue from our consulting work. In 2002 our software product Land.db was ready to launch. Syngenta became a client for that licensed software and were providing Land.db as part of their AgriEdge Excelsior program for growers. Over the years we navigated through five three-year term contracts.
Then in October 2015, after a successful 14-year history, we were in a strong financial position and they decided to acquire us. We were very proud that they chose to keep the brand name Ag Connections after the M&A group in Syngenta did a lot of surveys to test positivity around the brand name.
How did the competitive landscape look when you first set out compared to today?
When our first commercial product launched in 2002, this was after the dot-com crash and pre-Facebook, so investing in software was not very profitable. But we were a grower product, and we worked on the platform with our first 27 elite growers, who had no farm management system in place at all. They had accounting programs, but that was it. So we were walking down the technology learning road together with the grower, and there was nothing on the marketplace like it; the landscape was pretty bare past accounting and precision ag software.
Being early in the market like this has meant we have taken a leading role in initiatives such as AgGateway data standardization. It’s a slow process, but we’re a very strong supporter of AgGateway, and we’ve also traveled to other parts of the world to see other initiatives in Europe and Latin America.
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