Farmers Business Network (FBN) is getting into the biological inputs game with 17 new products including soil prebiotics, soil probiotics, photosynthetic enhancers, carbon sources, and advanced micronutrients. The range is available through its input pricing platform FBN Direct.
“We are very committed to growing the biological space. We’re also committed to doing it based on data,” Matthew Meisner, the company’s vice president of R&D, told AFN.
FBN is selling the products under its own label, but has worked with third parties to develop the range – licensing the relevant technology from them and acting as distributor. This is a more appealing option for the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based startup, which wants to focus on what it perceives to be its strengths in late-stage field testing, data collection, and path to market.
“Our goal is to partner with a lot of innovative developers and experts in the field around the world rather than developing things internally all the time,” Meisner said.
FBN has been curious about biologicals for a while now, but has tread carefully due to efficacy and consistency issues in the nascent sector, he added.
Farmers have also expressed concerns over things like cold storage, being able to use bio-based inputs with existing equipment, and figuring out the right cocktail for their specific operation.
“The efficacy of biologicals is unproven, meaning it’s hard to establish definitively that a product will work; whereas with a chemical, you spray a weed and it dies,” FBN co-founder and CEO Amol Deshpande told AFN last year.
“So, a farmer does not necessarily trust it. We feel like the answer to that is large-scale data.”
Deshpande was speaking in October, just after the launch of FBN’s On-Farm R&D Network for biologicals. This allows the platform’s 15,000-plus member farms across the US, Canada, and Australia to participate in real-world trials of biological inputs, providing anonymized agronomic data at scale.
Farmers receive payments for testing biological inputs and get to use the products for free. FBN is taking a rigorous approach to deciding which products are eligible for the on-farm R&D trials, Meisner said.
“We’re testing about 20 different products from companies all around the world this season. Going forward, our goal is to use that as an on-ramp to make decisions about changes to our portfolio, or additions.”
The plan is to eventually expand the offering beyond the 17 initial products, but that’ll depend on the outcome of R&D trials. Having a network of farmers at its disposal, FBN is already aware of a few key factors that a successful biological product will need to possess if it’s going to gain adoption.
Generally speaking, the more easily a new biological product can fit within a farmer’s existing system, the more attractive it is, Meisner said.
“Given the current focus on sustainability, I would also call out products that are focused on nutrient use efficiency as having some of the greatest interest right now in terms of helping to lower carbon emissions on farms. There’s a lot of interest in that given the sustainability markets that are evolving.”
FBN also recently launched a new service called Gradable, which assists farmers to qualify for carbon credit payments or adopt sustainable agricultural practices. The agronomist-led service provides soil sampling and crop nutrition recommendations.