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UPDATE: Agworld acquires plant protection data startup Greenbook

January 29, 2020

**UPDATE: Jan 29, 10:40 ET, to include comments from Agworld and further analysis**

Agworld has acquired Greenbook to offer its clients an up-to-date database of crop input labels to help them stay on top of warnings and legal status of various products before using them. 

There are countless rules and regulations that apply to crop protection inputs. Although the EPA makes the many regulations regarding pesticide use available to users online and through labeling, it’s quite a labyrinth of legalese and wordy mayhem. What’s most important to know for many users and consultants is that many crop input labels carry the full force and effect of the law, meaning that if you fail to comply with one of the label’s requirements, you’ve just broken the law.

Crop input labels are treated in this serious manner for a variety of reasons. Chief among them: health and safety for humans, animals, and the environment. And as labels change, users have a duty to stay on top of the most current information.

Despite these regulations, off-label uses of pesticides and other protection products happen frequently. The recent controversy over off-label use of dicamba became so hotly debated that one man was shot and killed by his neighbor during a confrontation regarding damage done to his crops by his neighbor’s alleged off-label use.

The neighbor had started using Monsanto’s newly formulated herbicide called dicamba to spray a nasty invasive weed called pigweed, which has become resistant to the more commonly-used herbicide glyphosate. Dicamba has a high potential for drift, however, and will kill nearby soybeans. 

Enter Greenbook

Many mistakes are innocent, as the labels can be confusing, so third parties are stepping in to help.

Greenbook is one example, a data company demystifying the confusing and complex world of chemical crop input labels. Claiming to have 20% more labels than any other database, users can search the database to find information about a label and product information. Its users include industry associations, ag retailers, app developers, and other entities to facilitate precision ag applications. It partners with a number of chemical plant protection manufacturers too, according to the company.

“They are the oldest and have been around the longest. It was originally a green book disseminated to agronomists and PCAs that would allow them to look up any label. Labels aren’t really meant to be user-friendly and some of the critical info you need to know like reentry intervals and minimum/maximum application amounts are very difficult to find through the label,” Zach Sheely, president at Agworld, tells AFN. Sheely’s company Agworld, a farm management platform for growers and crop consultants, has just acquired Greenbook from agriculture media group Farm Journal.

Agworld, founded by Doug Fitch and Matthew Powell in 2009, started off with a “digital pen” tool to help agronomists take notes in the field that could then be sent via email, avoiding the hassle of pen and paper. The team quickly expanded its digital capabilities to workflow management and record keeping. Now, the product provides a suite of tools to help agronomists and farmers work collaboratively to maximize productivity and return on investment, including sampling, planning and budgeting, scheduling, and record keeping. 

The planning portion is where Greenbook comes particularly handy, as Agworld can help customers to build out their crop input and precision ag plans with the latest information about different products from Greenbook.

“Greenbook provides all the information you should be aware of when making recommendations or applying something to a specific crop to treat a specific pest,” said Sheely.

Acquisitions as a growth strategy

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing consolidation in the agtech space lately so this tie-up indicates that perhaps the talk is more than just speculation. And this acquisition, similar to others, marks a key transition in Agworld’s journey, according to the press release. The company intends to pivot in 2020 from a startup to an established agribusiness. Strategic acquisitions will be a key part of this transition. 

There were only two other labels-made-easy services besides Greenbook that were contenders for Agworld: CDMS and Agrian. The company also considered building something similar inhouse and eventually concluded that purchasing Greenbook was the right move. Agworld was already a standing customer of Greenbook, offering its database through its platform, making the acquisition even more of a good fit.

“As we build and work with other companies sometimes it’s going to be better for us to control some of those solutions and own them fully, like Greenbook. If we do not own this business and it was to go elsewhere, it’s going to essentially force us to invest in a different solution or partnership potentially at a time that doesn’t work for us strategically. We build our strategy based on our customers’ needs and timing. We are an independent platform with all revenue derived from customers paying to use the software. We don’t have the luxury of just not making money. We cannot write it off and expect to pick up this value elsewhere.”

For now, Sheely is tight-lipped on where the business may be looking for its next acquisition. 

Founded in 2009, Australia-based Agworld currently counts over 50,000 farms and over 28,000 users across five countries on its platform. It also recently entered the Canadian market.

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