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Online sales of large volume inputs changing

In 2017, Farmers Business Network made its debut in Canada, and offers many programs with aggregated data

Farmers are increasingly looking at how they can price and buy their inputs online, but there are trust and relationship issues to overcome.

Farmers already use digital platforms to buy equipment and supplies online. Online ordering for hard-to-find parts isn’t new.

But a digital platform to enable farmers to buy large volumes of crop inputs, such as fertilizer, pesticides and seed doesn’t exist. Now Farmers Business Network (FBN) is working on it.

Why it matters: With input prices increasing and crop prices stagnant or declining, farmers are looking more than ever to save on the cost of expensive inputs.

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The obstacle to adoption will be trust — the quality of product must be what was expected and delivery has to be assured.

Alfons Weersink, a professor in the department of food, agriculture and resource economics with the University of Guelph, says decisions to buy inputs online are based mostly on price.

More unique inputs, or ones that require more service, are likely to be bought directly from suppliers. Many farmers have long, trusted relationships with local retailers.

A recent survey of American farmers by Farm Journal showed that by far the main reason farmers didn’t purchase online inputs is that they have a trusting relationship with a current supplier.

The FBN platform is designed to provide information to growers and give them the ability to compare pricing and analyze local seed and agronomic data.

FBN has more than 650 members covering five million acres in Canada. Its online purchasing and support programs are based on farmers helping farmers.

FBN first came to Canada in November of 2017 after building its business in the United States.

“There was a high demand for it in Canada before it made its debut here. There continues to be a high demand with the program’s ability to provide transparency to the customers,” says Tom Staples, general manager of FBN Canada.

Once farmers have paid the annual $800 membership fee, they can buy chemicals and fertilizer products online. As well, they can see the price market — a big asset for the network.

Here’s how it works:

  • Growers submit price quotes they’ve received from all retailers to the network.
  • The FBN makes the pricing anonymous and creates an outline with what the market average is, what the grower paid and what FBN’s best price is.
  • This pricing comparison chart is available to all farmers within the network — specific to each grower and their area.

With technology and independent agronomists, information is becoming more accessible. That means farmers don’t need the scouting, the information on how the product performs or the additional services retailers provide, says Staples. The farmer is getting value in the price.

While price is a key factor, Ken McEwan, production economics and agribusiness college professor for University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, says producers have other factors to consider before moving to an ordering service like FBM — including service, relationships, timing and convenience.

With FBN, the farm analytics aspect allows farmers to see the weather, yield, NDVI, crop moisture, fertilizer application, planting prescription, terrain and soil map of each field in one place.

The information is available to all farms within the network, anonymously.

“It’s one thing to think we’re doing OK. It’s another to know this is what we did on this field and this worked very well,” says Barry Shouse, a FBN member from Saskatchewan.

“Are we spending money over there that we don’t need to spend and should it be spent over here instead?” he said.

The data can be viewed and shared with other farmers to enable them to learn from farmers and understand which practices are excelling and which are not.

The seed finder program shows data on any given variety. It’s an example of how the aggregated data from operators can benefit members of the program.

It provides information on what variety works well on which soil type, how it performed with a certain planting date and the harvest dates, for example.

The yield potential tool takes the aggregated data on the program and allows farmers to plan out what would work for their operations. The farmers are able to play out different scenarios on their operation and see how certain varieties or practices would work for their fields.

This program gives farmers many different options, says Staples.

McEwan says it may be best for growers able to handle bulk quantities more efficiently rather than farmers who are mainly focused on price.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.

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