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Farmers Business Network: Reinventing The Food System

Charles Baron, co-founder and vice president of Farmers Business Network Inc., No. 13 on the Poets&Quants Top 100 Startups of 2017

UNSTACKING THE DECK

FBN’s success may be attributable to more than convenience. It also benefits from the loyalty of its members. That’s because “Farmers First” isn’t just a motto, it’s an end goal. Baron wants to recast the farm economy around the farmer.

“The farmer is the fundamental value-creator in the farm economy,” he says. “They’re the ones who turn the inputs into food. They take all the risk, and they make the least money. And that’s what we are changing.”

The deck has always been stacked against farmers, Baron says, who have always been squeezed between the feed companies and the crop marketers. But by aggregating, sharing, and participating in networks, he says, “FBN is able to help farmers level the playing field.”

REINVENTING THE FOOD SYSTEM

The playing field will be even more level now that FBN Direct is in the business of helping farmers buy products with big and immediate discounts.

“It’s a huge benefit for farms across the country, because it allows farmers to get access to products that they might not be able to get access to from their local supplier,” Baron says, “and it allows them to save money and it allows them to benefit from the buying power and the scale of the network that’s the size of FBN.”

He says FBN Direct will be expanding in 2017 in number of products, savings opportunities, and scale of membership. They’ll also explore areas like crop marketing, “because farmers have as many problems on that side of the business as they do on the buying side.”

And that, Baron says, is where Farmers Business Network can accomplish its revolution — the reinvention of the food system.

“It’s being able to use data in an innovative way so the farmer can have full knowledge of the crop and what took place in the field, exactly which products were used, which seeds, which fertilizers, how the crop yielded on a field-by-field basis,” Baron says. “And then be able to market that crop uniquely — not just mix all their corn or wheat together in a large bin with Cargill or with somebody like that.

“We’e a company that is using technology to help the farmers reinvent the food system around them. Agriculture is a unique industry because it’s the only industry remotely of its size that is completely dependent on independent family producers. It’s kind of like if every oil well was owned by an individual family. And that’s the way the food system works. The vast majority of our farms are independent small businesses, but they are struggling, enormously. We’re in a very bad farm economy, so it’s essential that they be able to save a little bit and survive in the system. It’s completely wrong that the people who do all the work and create all the value in the system are the ones who take the financial risk, take the weather risk, the ones laboring from dawn to dusk every day, and then they get the lowest profits. And we’re working to change that.”

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