Farmers Edge CEO Talks CNHi Deal, Data Connectivity
Friday morning’s big news in precision ag – the forming of a strategic partnership between Canadian ag tech agronomy provider Farmers Edge (Winnipeg, MB) and international equipment giant CNH Industrial (CNHi) – confirmed a long standing suspicion many in crop input retailing channels have long held of the big equipment manufacturers and their budding distribution networks: a secret hunger to enter the world of agronomic recommendations, an area of business typically served by the ag service provider.
Wade Barnes, Farmers Edges dogged CEO and a former Awards of Excellence Entrepreneur of the Year awardee, touched base with us briefly today to discuss the big news.
“We’re really excited about this deal,” Barnes told PrecisionAg.com, his pleasure practically beaming through the phone line from Canada’s Western Plains. “It’s an awesome deal for Farmers Edge, for Case IH, and, I think, for the industry as a whole as we continue to move to a more digitized agriculture, with more connected machines and more connected farms.”
Like most press releases, the CNHi-issued news release was long on big, important sounding buzz words (“Opt-In Logic” was a new one for this author) and somewhat short on hard details about the new partnership. What we do know from the release is the partnership will begin a staged roll out during early 2019 in the U.S., with other key international markets like Brazil and Australia to follow.
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The release also gets into how Farmers Edge services and products will be marketed via a service tier model. An entry-level tier for those growers wishing to do some basic data management or imagery, and a ‘premier tier’ that leverages the full Farmers Edge ecosystem of services and technology, both were discussed.
“We’ll have different levels that growers can enter in with, where they can be connected to a little bit of imagery maybe, or they can choose to dive into a full out, digital agronomic system,” Barnes says. “I think at the end of the day CNH wants a level of connectivity to the farm, and at the same time farmers are looking for a way to get information – whether that’s as-applied or yield data, whatever data that may be – digitized so they can get it into a platform and start using it to make better decisions.”
Another key driver that helped facilitate this development, according to Barnes, is the prevalence of mixed-fleet environments on most of the farmland around the world.
“I think that is the part that really drew CNH to us, because there are a ton of farmers that are good customers of all of the equipment brands, not just CNH brands, and we’ve got to serve those growers, too,” Barnes explains. “A real challenge for them has been how do you connect the entire farm when often you’re dealing in a mixed-fleet environment, and Farmers Edge is a bridge to all the equipment data, plus weather, agronomics, etc., and bringing them all together. There are not many companies that can check all of the boxes that we can.”
Of course, for CNH’s part the mega-manufacturer will also get to pull more machine data into its servers for processing and subsequent staging of dealer services to CNH users.
“Machine health (data) will be a very important aspect for them going forward,” Barnes opines. “That is, machine health correlated to how the machine is operating in the field. We can do a better job providing CNH data to ensure the equipment is running better for its customers, and we’ll continue to work very closely on those projects in the future.”
Anytime a new data-sharing relationship is announced in ag, inevitably some of the first concerns voiced are those surrounding data ownership issues. Barnes assured PrecisionAg that the two companies’ philosophies around data ownership, positioned around the farmer as primary data rights holder, are a good match.
“I think in their view of this relationship, that in the future with some of our telematics products, and if the grower wants that data to go to them, this is a great opportunity to help that machine work better,” Barnes explains. “From a CNH strategy standpoint, this digital connection will help them get closer to its customers.”
As far as how the optics will unfold around the North America rollout in the coming months, Barnes envisions Farmers Edge reps integrating into the precision ag teams at various CNH dealerships across the continent.
“We’re hoping to touch as many of those really strong dealerships in the next two or three months,” he details. “And it’s not just North America, both companies have some really strong pockets of business in places like Brazil, Australia, Ukraine and Central Europe, and we’ll be moving rather quickly into those markets as well.”
Asked the obligatory “why-this-deal-at-this-time” question that gets thrown out there anytime a notable merger takes place, Barnes sites Farmers Edges upbringing in traditional ag markets as a differentiating point from some of the other Silicon Valley-based ag tech outfits.
“Farmers Edge, we come from a different path that was kind of born out through a grassroots movement founded by a lot of ex-crop input or equipment industry people,” Barnes says. “We believe the path to market is better through the established channels (of business). Silicon Valley usually focuses on disrupting the channel. Our view is our farmers see a lot of these folks in the local community via the ‘trusted advisor’ role, and we want to make that connection stronger via digital technology.
“Certainly, that is something that Farmers Edge wants to be a part of going forward, and we’re eager to establish stronger ties in the ag retail market, and I think this relationship with CNH will help showcase that.”