Sarah Mock

Article Farmer Perspective

Farmers Don't Need to Feed the World

Mar. 20, 2017

by Sarah Mock

The future of farming is not going to revolve around higher yields. There is a misconception out there that farmers are responsible for feeding the world. Maybe it comes from the broken-record references to the “doubling of food production by 2050 to feed 9 billion people”, or the changing consumer culture that demands to know who, exactly, grows food. Or maybe it’s just a desire to pass responsibility down to the source. But wherever we got this idea- it’s wrong. The reality is that farmers are already growing more than enough calories to feed the world . And it’s likely that, with rapidly changing, global consumer preferences, the food we produce, and how we produce it, will need to change many times before the nine billionth human takes her first breath. But if we discard this “grow more food” idea, where does that leave us? What should the goals of our agricultural pursuits be, and more importantly, where do we go next? Let’s start with where we are. Right now, American farms are going through an unprecedented change. Commodity prices are at historic lows, multi-national businesses are continuing to consolidate (and raise prices), the average age of farmers is going up, and fewer and fewer farms stay in business with each passing year. American farms are facing tremendous pressure to “get bigger or get out” because of massive capital intensity and the millions of dollars on the balance sheet that are required to make even a meager annual income. Without the “2050” narrative, higher yields don't need to have a part in this transition.  We’re looking to get from here; a risky, unfair, shrinking farm economy to a future where there are not only more farmers and more competition for their business, but where those farmers are also more secure and more willing and able to adapt to the changing demands of a global marketplace. Obviously, yield will continue to be important, because in the broadest sense, more crop per acre is more income per acre, and more income per acre moves us closer to more secure and adaptive farmers. But in recent years especially, more yield leading to more income hasn't always panned out. As a matter of fact, over-emphasis on high yields might actually be hurting farm outcomes. This is because for several years, even average yields in the US were extraordinarily high ( 175 bu/A for corn in 2016 shattered the previous record ), and squeezing a few extra bushels from an acre of land often requires costly products or worse, bringing more marginal areas under production. Farmers face many trade-offs when making these kinds of decisions, but without access to objective information, the most cost-effective decision is often unclear. And cost-effectiveness, much more than yield, is the key. Marketing materials from across the industry have, for years, preached that they can help farmers get higher yields. But unless you’re farming for trophies, paying $10, $20, or $50 an acre for products or services that reliably promise, at best, a few extra bushels, just doesn’t make good business sense. The ag industry, and ag technology in particular, will have to stop focusing on raising yields and start focusing on raising farm revenues and profits if they hope to stay relevant.   And the evidence is already starting to pile up. Research has shown that the biggest farms in the US don’t prioritize high yields, they prioritize profitability, indicating that farms that have been able to succeed and grow, even in this tough economy, have done so not with bin-busting yields, but with aggressive balance sheets that prioritize return on investment over braggability.   I’ve known many farmers who, despite being incredible at their jobs, think of themselves more as agronomists, environmentalist, or machinist than as entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, farmers of the future might not have the luxury to be just growers- they’ll also have to be savvy business people, which will mean making tough decisions about what’s worthwhile in terms of the bottom line. To inform these decisions, farmers will need access to the best information that’s available, and more importantly, they’ll have to act on it. Does all of this mean that farmers can stop worrying about yields this year, next year, and for the next decade? Of course not. Your product, and how much of it you produce, matters. But the right decision might be to skip an in-season application or opt out of a seed treatment that doesn't offer enough ROI, even if it hurts your yields. The farmers who come out on top of today’s farm economy will be the ones who found a competitive advantage not by topping 300 bu/A corn, but by radically controlling input costs, optimizing every practice and decision, and finding new ways to add value to their products. 2017 is a good year for a new story. Farmers are not solely responsible for making sure no one goes hungry- that’s our job as a society. Farmers, like the rest of us, are responsible for being good at their jobs, for doing more with less, for turning soil and sunlight into opportunity. Getting caught up in feeding the world only distracts from the farmers’ true responsibility- to carry on one of humankind's most ancient and noble traditions by running the best damn farms they possibly can.   Dozens of Farmers Voice Their Biggest Concerns About the State of Farming, We Examined the Data. What issues are weighing on farmer's minds? What will the impact of ag industry consolidation be on the prices farmers pay? The Voice of the Farmer tells the story of modern day farming through a combination of candid quotes from farmers and analysis of real farm data covering of millions of acres. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.

Jan. 18, 2017

by Sarah Mock

Ringger Farms, headed by Jamin Ringger, is a 1,100 acre corn, soybean, and hog operation in central Illinois. “I operate a relatively small operation, so every acre counts, especially when margins are tight. You get one chance to do it right, and it’s challenging to make sure that the right seed is on the right farm at the right population.“ Jamin had plenty of data, and he knew that there was real potential to increase yield by changing seeding populations and varieties, but his operation was simply not a big enough test plot to determine the best varieties. “We just don’t have the space to do it ourselves.” Jamin needed a way to more effectively analyze his operation’s data and access a larger pool of local, real world performance data. With FBN ℠ Seed Finder, Jamin has access to unbiased information from thousands of corn and soybean fields in his area. By seeing what varieties, population rates, and practices are (and are not) working on nearby farms, Jamin is able to make more informed decisions on everything from changing nitrogen rates to variety placement in the field. “In terms of improving yields, the information from FBN was valuable the day I signed up. And this wasn’t big, national-level information from the seed guys. This is data collected from Illinois corn and soybean farmers like us.” Even in his first year with Farmer’s Business Network, Jamin has been able to put his data to work, adjusting and optimizing his seeding populations and better matching his seed varieties to his fields and soil types “It’s hard to put a price on the information, but we’re definitely getting our money back. I would guess we’re looking at about $10 an acre worth of value.” Dekalb ® and Asgrow ® are  registered trademarks of Monsanto Technology LLC.

Nov. 29, 2016

by Sarah Mock

Adam Bjerkevdt learned his most important lesson about life and farming while picking rocks. Adam’s met his future wife, the daughter of a Minnesota farmer, at an FFA convention while they were both in high school. Adam grew up on a dairy, and after meeting his wife, spent summers helping out on his father-in-law’s 1,600 acre corn and soybean operation. Adam came back to the farm after college as a farm hand. One of his regular tasks? Picking rocks, of course. “While out there picking rocks, I was seeing a lot of skips and doubles in the field, and it got me thinking.” That was Adam’s first breakthrough: first, you’ve got to think. "Not only do you have to think but you have to become educated. We started going to seminars, doing research, and educating ourselves to try and correct our planting mistakes. That’s how my father-in-law and I found out about this company, Precision Planting." Then he learned the next lesson; you’ve got to take opportunities when they come. "There was no Precision Planting dealer in our area, not thinking we would become one we toured the company and we came back as a dealer." "We really hit the ground running. We weren't sure how big this dealership would get, but we used and tested the products on our farm first and once the word got out, the farm and business prospered together. We named the dealership Precision Ag 360." There are a lot of ups and downs for Adam in the business. Though he enjoys staying busy year round supporting precision equipment and other technologies, there are also serious challenges. "Poor products are a struggle for any business, and it’s the toughest thing to handle on the service front. You get criticism, and that’s hard, but you have to take it and make it right. That's why we like to test everything and have real solutions to the problems fast. Good service sets us apart, we use and service what we sell." Recent consolidations in the agribusiness industry have also posed a unique challenge to Adam’s business. “Working with companies as a dealer is hard, because you’re kind of at their mercy. As companies and products change hands, you sometimes have moments where you say ‘I own the business, but do I still have a job?’ Consolidation in the industry brings that question to the fore, but we just have to take it and do the best we can. That’s just business. You don’t have control over your market, so you just manage risk and are careful with inventory. A bad product could easily give you a black eye with a customer or make you obsolete.” Adam has also explained how he’s chosen the partners he has. “We’ve taken on the products that make the most sense for farmers. Plus, farmers are not wasteful people, and with tough prices the last couple of years, we’ve helped farmers out by buying used equipment, breaking it down, and building it back up with new technologies to make it a little more economical. Planning and reacting to the market is part of putting farmers first, which is important to us.” Adam is excited about what else is coming down in the line in ag technologies. “ Multi-hybrids planters are going to be a game changer. That’s the new technology we’re most excited about. Hybrid selection is now something we can manage and do, and now we can actually do that in the field. Multi-hybrids will actually make you money.” And Adam is incredibly hopeful when he looks at other farmers around the industry. “A lot of very entrepreneurial farmers are already building businesses outside crops; be it irrigation pivots, livestock, custom services, equipment, seed, or something else. My advice would be to find something that works in your schedule on the farm and allows you to use the equipment and capital you already have (like your shop) in the off-season.” And it’s been important for Adam to remember that he’s a farmer, not a superhero. “Make sure you can manage your work conditions. Doing things for yourself, like say, heating your shop, makes sense if it helps you be more efficient. Work efficiently, and hire someone. Hiring and training people was the hardest thing I faced, and since farmers are naturally jacks-of-all-trades, we want to do it ourselves. Don’t. You can’t do it all.” Adam’s final piece of wisdom when he’s talking to new FFA kids, carrying on in his and his wife’s tradition? “Just because you’re picking rocks today doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Think, educate, and take opportunities when they arise and you will be successful."  Adam Bjerkevdt spoke at FBN's Farmer2Farmer Conference. We hope you can join us next year!

Nov. 18, 2016

by Sarah Mock

Iowa farmer Ben Pederson turned a misstep into a business opportunity, and ignited a passion for bringing his farm and the whole industry into the digital age. Ben started farming corn and beans with his dad in the early 2000s. The boom years around 2010 came and went without a big payoff, teaching Ben one of the hardest lessons a young farmer can learn, that adaptability - even over tried-and-true marketing principles - is most important. “After that time, I had this determination to succeed in something where I thought I had failed at commodity farming. In hindsight, I didn’t fail, I just learned that I need to be more adaptive. I knew I wanted to find some other way to gain my competitive edge back and to find another way to augment my commodity crop income.” The first place Ben looked was to technology. “I bought my own Precision Planting system around that time. I did a good install and I eventually became a dealer. I started with one customer, one system, one problem at a time, and basically got to a point where I’m now on the phone all the time while I’m planting, helping guys use and troubleshoot their equipment.” “When I heard that 360 Yield Center was getting started, I latched on like a bulldog and got in as a dealer. That was a really valuable decision- their new products, like the Y-drop applicator, have allowed me to become a custom applicator too.” This kind of exposure has allowed Ben to give farmers in his community unprecedented access to new technologies that otherwise wouldn’t be available without a farmer making a big equipment investment on their own. “There’s been so many twists and turns where I’ve had to be really nimble. At first, I thought I only wanted to be a Precision Planting dealer, but I knew that once I’d started, adding another product to the mix would be a lot easier.  Now I have a pretty diverse business" "Despite the fact that many of the new things I’ve done weren’t on my radar at all three years ago. My eyes are always open to new opportunities. ” Ben is excited about the future of the industry, and has seen the gamble he made on technology pay off in a big way. “There are incredibly cutting-edge and innovative companies and technologies in agriculture right now. The networking has been great- the products attract really progressive farmers with sharp business acumen who have given me great advice and shared some important secrets. ” In Ben’s experience, the real secret to having happy farmer customers is providing good service. “There’s no bigger turnoff than bad customer service, so I work really hard to be better than average.” “There were a lot of unanticipated consequences to starting the sister business to my farm. The first effect was having much better wherewithal to keep employees year round, since we can install and sell equipment even during the winter. That was huge.” Ben is even thinking about what might be next for Sprout Ag. “It still takes a lot of the human element to get value out of drones, but there are cameras and things coming that will be able to detect diseases or count plants. Once that comes online, that might be a direction we want to head. We’re staying on our toes, and we’re looking for all opportunities to be new, cutting-edge, and out-of-the-box.” Join Ben Pederson, Steve Case, and more at Farmer2Farmer 2016, December 12-14 in Omaha, NE.

Nov. 01, 2016

by Sarah Mock

Hear from farmer Chad Nelsen from Viborg, SD, on input prices, FBN ℠  Direct, and decision-making on the farm.  Find ag chemical prices through FBN Direct.

Article Tools And Technology

Field Maps at Your Fingertips With FBN Mapping

Oct. 27, 2016

by Sarah Mock

FBN℠ Maps automatically converts all of your precision data into a fast, seamless, and printable mapping system. But FBN Maps  goes way beyond conventional precision mapping by analyzing the deeper data in your precision files. So you not only can see your harvest, planting, seed, soil and elevation data - but now visualize factors like crop moisture, drydown needs, prescription accuracy, planting speeds and more. All your maps can be compared and overlaid to one another, and you can add and map an unlimited number of acres . Explore multi-year harvest trends, or compare your yields to soil types, or your field elevation and topography to harvest moisture. And by breaking out your data in histograms and pie charts -  FBN Maps  gives you the power to understand your fields like never before. What kind of maps does FBN create? Harvest Maps > Yield                           > Potential Yield Impovement           > Crop Moisture                 > Drydown              Planting Maps > Seeding Rate             > Planting Speed                                 > Target Seeding Rate         > Seed Variety > Prescription Accuracy Layer Natural Features Maps > Elevation                 > Soil Type (SSURGO)    What can I do with FBN Maps ? Store, view, and analyze all your fi eld-level precision data in one place. Breakdown the data displayed in your map with associated histograms and pie charts. Compare any two map layers side-by-side with the Compare Maps slider. View historical data and compare map layers between years across your operation. Easily print your field maps. "FBN is the place I go to when I want to look at a yield map. It’s so easy, I can do it from multiple devices and printing is seamless."                                                                              –BRETT MCCRORY, IL FARMER How Do I Get Started? Getting your maps in  FBN Maps is easy - just start by uploading your precision data into your FBN account .   For more ways to add data: Visit:  How to add data to your  FBN account You can upload monitor fi les in FBN , integrate your MyJohnDeere  account for seamless transfer, add via DropBox or Google Drive, or just email them to Draw your own maps or upload boundary shape fi les in the “Add Farms & Fields” tool under " Account" FBN Maps Now Includes Satellite Imagery! Click to Learn More.

Oct. 25, 2016

by Sarah Mock

There are a lot of factors to consider when selecting seeds. We surveyed hundreds of farmers who downloaded the Seed Selection Playbook and found that 30% of farmers believe that price or return on investment are the most important factors when deciding which seeds to buy and plant. The single top consideration was yield, and disease resistance, stalk quality, genetic traits, and availability were other important factors.  If you're looking for more information than what your local seed dealer, agronomist, or university trial can provide, the FBN℠ Seed Finder tool gives you access to yield performance information on over 5,000 seed varieties, based on millions of acres of real-world data contributed by farmers from across the country. And when it comes to seed prices, make sure you have all the information available before making your decision.  We analyzed over 2,000 reported seed prices from farmers across the country to reveal:  National price differences for popular corn seeds Regional price differences for Dekalb® seeds Year-over-year seed price changes Agronomic seed pricing zone comparisons

Oct. 19, 2016

by Sarah Mock

Farmer Dan Koster grows 3,200 acres of corn in Sterling, IL, and has had combine monitors for 15 years. “We look at the university tests first, but that’s all we have as far as trials. They’re supposed to be unbiased, but we know that this isn’t always true.” Dan had data that was going unused and that had been lost because it wasn’t stored properly. He needed a solution that would let him store and view his data while gaining access to more unbiased information on seed variety yields. “This winter, we laid out our entire operation in a spreadsheet. Using FBN SM Seed Finder , we found what performed best on a field, and we made a list of the highest yielding seeds on each soil type. In a few cases, we chose the number two seed because the number one was the highest priced hybrid, but it only had a 4 bushel advantage, so the second seed had a better cost return.” “Seed Finder gave us the information we were looking for to selected hybrids that we would have never looked at otherwise.” Dan made some brand changes, particularly when two different companies had similar genetics and yields, but one was selling at a significantly lower price. He also used FBN  Analytics  to make some changes to his planting date and nitrogen management. “Maneuvering around on the website is really easy, and there’s a lot of good information on there. Plus, I learn new and interesting things on webinars and in emails all the time.” Click to View Other Popular Blog Posts 

Sep. 22, 2016

by Sarah Mock

 Ever wonder what it would be like to intern at FBN SM? We asked our most recent class of interns who they found the experience. Here's what they said. First, Brandon Caudell, a recent intern on the FBN Engineering team in San Carlos. He is currently a senior at Kansas University. Mutian Niu was an summer intern on the FBN Data Science team, and is currently a grad student at the University of California - Davis.  "I came to  FBN  because I knew they were making great use of data from farmers and helping farmers understand more about their fields and crops. It was my first industry experience, so I was a bit nervous before I started, but  my co-workers were all really friendly and helpful, not to mention that they are really smart and dedicated to their work." "In my time at FBN , I worked on three different projects associated with weather, and not only were these projects really interesting to me, they were also important pieces  FBN ’s big picture." "Right now, farmers are having a tough time because low commodity prices, and at FBN , we're helping farmer manage this in a lot of different ways, from basic analytics to seed intelligence to price transparency. I was able to participate in creating products that not only help farmers make wiser decisions in order to improve crop production, but also help them earn and save more money." "Because I loved the mission, the work, and because I want to be part of making thse things happen, I decided to come back to FBN after finishing school. I have been studying/working in ag for more than ten years and I hope that joining FBN will allow me to use my knowledge to make meaningful contributions." "I know that by the time I get back next year,  FBN will have grown a lot. I am really excited to work with the data to help understand and improve the profitability of farmers. The best part of working at FBN  was seeing that even a small change, a small step is making an impact. Nobody else has ever accomplished these things before, and at the core of all these projects is helping farmers. That feels great!" Interested in becoming part of the FBN team? Check out our open positions and apply today. " FBN is an incredible company full of equally-incredible people. From the minute I arrived to my last day in the office, they made me feel welcomed and appreciated. When I first saw the title "start-up", there was a nagging fear in the back of my mind that the level of professionalism and knowledgeability wouldn't be as high as I wanted, but that fear went away almost immediately once I got there. The engineers on this team are brilliant in a wide array of topics, and getting to work with and learn from them was the best part of the job. Ultimately, when I received a full-time offer, it was their level of enthusiasm and competency that pushed me to accept.  There is not a single person in the office with whom I wouldn't be proud to say I got to work.""Of course, a great team is nothing without interesting projects to work on.  That's the other area where FBN excels: the software I got to work on this summer actually matters . I got to wake up every morning and be excited to go in to work, which is something that the majority of college students miss out on. The problems we solve are challenging and numerous, which energizes me as an engineer. The pay-off of knowing that my hard work will actually make a difference to real people is incredibly motivating.""I've interned at a few different companies throughout my college career, but the projects at FBN intrigued and challenged me in a way few other things had. At the end of the summer, it was extremely difficult to pry myself away from my work and head back to school, purely because of how much fun I'd had along the way.  I really can't wait to get back to FBN and pick up where I left off." "I've been bragging to my classmates about my summer since I've been back, and they can tell from the way I talk about the company that it really is a special place."

Sep. 19, 2016

by Sarah Mock

This week, we are excited to welcome several new team members, including Maria Olide as CFO, to FBN®. Maria, Elizabeth Fastiggi as VP of Business Development, Patrick Snyder as Head of Supply Chain, James Yen, Controller, and others bring years of world-class experience in finance, business development and supply chain leadership, along with deep passions for agriculture, to the  FBN  team.   Chief Financial Officer Maria Olide  was born in a small farming town in Mexico, before she moved to the Central Valley of California where she spent her summers working on farms harvesting various fruits. Previously she served as divisional CFO at ADP and as a partner at KPMG Management Consulting, she also has an MBA from Stanford and a BA from UC Berkeley.  Head of Supply Chain Patrick Snyder  comes from a 5th generation ranching family in the high desert of Nevada - a diverse crop and custom cattle feeding operation. His older siblings are running the ranch with his father, but it is still his favorite place to spend time. Out of college, he spent a few years in agribusiness, moved into supply chain software sales, and has spent the last 11 years in various supply chain leadership positions in consumer electronics. He is excited to be leading the  FBNSM  supply chain and is thrilled to be back in agriculture.  For  VP of Business Development Elizabeth Fastiggi , her interest in agriculture dates back to her environmental science focus at UC Berkeley and conducting field studies in the Central Valley and coastal regions of California. Elizabeth has experience as a private equity investor with GE Capital and Ziff Brothers Investments, and has managed business development for Proterro. She is thrilled to be back in California after almost 20 years on the East Coast, and is very excited to join the  FBN  team.     Controller James Yen  is originally from Brooklyn, New York City. He started his career at Ernst & Young doing financial audits of Fortune 500 companies, and later served in various roles at Clorox. He is very excited to join the  FBN  family and to support the farmers of America.