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FBN launches free membership – and its answer to ag carbon credit markets

September 21, 2020

US, Canadian, and Australian farmers can now join Farmers Business Network’s agribusiness marketplace and network for free. Existing members will receive a prorated credit for the value of their paid membership, which can be used in the online FBN Direct Store or towards a Market Advisory Pro Subscription. The platform formerly charged a $700 annual membership fee.

“The momentum has been building,” FBN co-founder and CEO Amol Deshpande told AFN. “We had a record month in March and another in August. This will be a record month in September because of the new free membership initiative given the numbers we saw on the day we announced it.”

With nearly 14,000 current members, FBN covers 45 million acres of farmland globally. During 2020, it claims to have seen a 42% surge in new members. The platform offers a variety of services, including a ‘price-transparent’ marketplace for chemical and seed inputs, a seed finder that offers access to information on over 1,400 varieties, free access to satellite imagery, and a networking function to help farmers connect. It also allows users to shop for insurance, financing, and brokering options.

The goal of announcing free membership is for FBN to have a “bigger tent” while doubling down on it’s promise that its services can make farmers more profitable, Deshpande explained.

But assuming that each of its nearly 14,000 members paid $700 to access the platform for a year, it’s giving up as much as $9.8 million in income.

“We generated revenue from membership. We don’t disclose total revenue, but as a percentage of total revenue, it was pretty de minimis,” Deshpande said.

“The millions we are giving up we see as an investment in the customer. We know there is a lot of pent up demand for FBN and all of our offerings. By taking away this friction, we think it will unleash a lot of that.”

Only a few hours after making the announcement, FBN says it hit its biggest day ever in terms of new sign-ups. 

The startup has been busy this year. It announced a $250 million Series F round led by BlackRock last month. A few weeks ago, it also debuted a new offering called Gradable (originally named GRO Network) that is aimed at providing farmers who use sustainability-oriented practices with receiving premiums.

“The premise of it is a grain buying and origination platform that also provides legitimate data-driven environmental scoring to give farmers premiums for [carbon] abatement and other environmental practices they may pursue,” Deshpande said.

According to this BlackRock fund manager, agrifoodtech has ‘captured the retail investor’s imagination.’  Read the full interview here

The effort is in partnership with POET, the world’s largest producer of biofuels. Through the service, farmers will share information about their practices like fertilizer application, tillage, and cover cropping. Gradable will process the data alongside FBN’s in-house data to validate it and provide a farm-level sustainability score for the farmer’s offering.

The goal is to offer buyers “verifiable low-carbon grain.” FBN began working on Gradable roughly two years ago with the hopes of allowing fuel, food, and feed companies to work alongside farmers to accelerate the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices.

Gradable is initially focused on carbon abatement, which has been a popular topic in the ag world of late. A number of parties are advancing ag carbon credit markets as a solution to climate change that can also provide growers with a new revenue stream. Among them are Cargill, Nori, and Indigo, to name just a few. US federal policymakers recently introduced legislation in an attempt to start regulating aspects of carbon credit markets for agriculture.

But the debate about whether we can adequately measure carbon storage, and concern about the multitude of carbon standards being used, remains unsolved.

“I think it lacks legitimacy right now,” Deshpande said. “There are a lot of companies flailing around at this and a lot of charlatan behavior in that market. Our goal is to work with super credible parties for a data-driven approach rather than the ethereal carbon credit approach.”

He hinted at more announcements coming down the pipeline in the near future. FBN is turning its attention to local and rural communities through an upcoming initiative that he describes as “FBN 2.0.” Honing delivery and logistics for its procurement platform is also a high priority.

“Our delivery model is still in its infancy. Although we are a leader, we have to innovate ourselves.”

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