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Nutrien Acquires Agrible for $63m to “Create Ag Retailer of the Future”

July 16, 2018

Nutrien, the world’s largest fertilizer and ag retail business, has acquired Agrible, a digital agtech startup from Champaign, Illinois, for $63 million.

Agrible, a startup offering a suite of decision support software tools for farmers as well as sustainability tracking for food brands, is venture capital-backed, last raising $9.7 million in funding in September 2017 as part of a planned $15.7 million Series B round.

It counts Maumee Ventures, the venture arm of The Andersons grain handling company, as shareholder, alongside commodities major Archer Daniels Midland and other venture capital funds including agtech specialist Serra Ventures.

Nutrien intends to integrate Agrible’s suite of farm management services — which include Find My Seed, SpraySmart, and Tractor Time all presented on the Morning Farm Report dashboard — immediately with Nutrien Ag Solutions, its newly branded digital platform. Nutrien Ag Solutions includes Echelon, the precision agriculture platform developed by Agrium, that offers growers precision soil sampling, variable rate nutrient and seeding recommendations, yield data analysis, weather monitoring, precision field scouting and tissue sampling, aerial imagery analysis, record keeping and reporting.

Agrible also offers a sustainability tracking service, which offers food companies project-based traceability metrics by tracking the farm management practices of the farms from which they source ingredients. General Mills and Anheuser In-Bev are both clients of this service, which will continue to operate under the Agrible brand for the meantime, with plans to continue to grow this part of the business, according to Mike Frank, president of Nutrien Retail.

“Over the last year or so we’ve been aggressively adding people to our digital team with the aim of becoming a digital ag retailer of the future, not only to include a digital agronomy piece, but sustainability and ecommerce capabilities as well to provide convenience our customers can benefit from,” Mike Frank, president of Nutrien Retail, told AgFunderNews.

“We really believe traceability is important and when we talk to our customers, they are looking to become more sustainable on the farm, so we really like Agrible’s sustainability platform. We think we have the scale and ability to recommend sustainable solutions to our 500,000 farmer clients and help with traceability from the farm to the food company.”

Conversations between the two parties started while Agrible was raising its Series B last September; we reported on the close of the first round. The round also coincided with a shift in focus for the startup, a shift that led to the departure of Agrible founder Chris Harbourt along with other employees including Cynthia Bruno, chief strategy officer.

“Last October we took a hard look at where our technology added the most value and found a really nice fit with Nutrien; it was exciting to see growth in the downstream sustainability data market, but we really saw an opportunity to provide retailers with services to help the grower connect to their local retailer. Agronomic advice has to have a local flavor to it, and so strategically we decided that retailer services had to be part of the Agrible offering,” Dave Stanko, Agrible’s chief operating office told AgFunderNews. 

“This wasn’t a pivot to the retail per se, but an acknowledgment that the retailer was crucial to understanding sustainability; if a grower doesn’t have a retailer involved in its sustainability program, then converting advice and analytics into action becomes hard.” Stanko added that Agrible was not looking for an exit at the time.

While Nutrien follows a strategy of build, buy and partner when looking at new opportunities, this is unlikely to be the last acquisition for Nutrien, which acquired Waypoint Analytical, the US soil testing group, according to Mark Thompson, VP of business development for Nutrien and leading the charge on M&A for the group.

Thompson referenced this strategy when talking about reaching the $63 million valuation for Agrible, against DuPont’s $300 million acquisition of Granular and Monsanto’s $1 billion acquisition of The Climate Corporation in 2013.

“The comparables in this space aren’t really comparables,” he told AgFunderNews. “The deals we’ve seen have been few and far between and highly idiosyncratic to the point in time and the participants. This is unlike in a public markets context where you can more easily compare. We compared Agrible’s unique capabilities and the financial benefits of acquiring it against a build or partner scenario to reach our purchase price. We believe this investment will generate attractive returns for our shareholders.”

Stanko added that the exit “achieved a great result for shareholders and employees alike with full board support at this valuation.”

Nutrien Ag Solutions offers a combination of free services for Nutrien clients as well as fee-based products offered on a per acre or per farm basis.

The deal is expected to complete at the end of the month.

Serra Ventures and Chris Harbourt declined to comment for this story.

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