E-​​Commerce for Farmers: Shopping Online for $26,000 of Herbicides

The Wall Street Journal
February 16, 2017

Farm­ers turn to inter­net to save on seeds and other sup­plies; dis­pens­ing with a visit to the local co-​​op

Bran­don Sin­clair spent $26,000 on her­bi­cides for his corn and soy­bean fields last year, roughly half what he says he used to pay at his local co-​​operative.

The sav­ings came from a source many U.S. farm­ers have been slow to tap: the internet.

Farm­ers have long made pil­grim­ages to farm stores and co-​​operatives to pur­chase seeds, fer­til­izer and weed and pest killers. Now, with a com­mod­ity glut pres­sur­ing crop prices and push­ing farm incomes to an eight-​​year low, farm­ers are scour­ing the web for bet­ter deals on the prod­ucts they use to grow their crops.

The shift could upend a decades-​​old sys­tem built around small-​​town sup­pli­ers that also offer farm­ing advice and sell ser­vices such as spray­ing for weeds. Mr. Sin­clair says the math is sim­ple: Using sav­ings found online, the 31-​​year old Illi­nois farmer was able to spring for a heli­copter to wran­gle his herd of cat­tle. Now he is urg­ing his neigh­bors to shop online, too.

I’ve always been kind of a tech guru and a tight-​​ass,” Mr. Sin­clair said.

The inter­net has been slow to spread across rural Amer­ica, but increas­ingly farm­ers are within reach of online pric­ing and sell­ers. A decade ago only a third of peo­ple in rural areas had access to broad­band inter­net, ver­sus nearly half in cities, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter. As of Novem­ber broad­band had reached 63% of rural res­i­dents and 73% of peo­ple in cities.

Farmer pro­po­nents of online shop­ping say they have dis­cov­ered local prices for crop sup­plies can vary widely across the coun­try. Weed­killers can cost up to four times as much in one part of the coun­try as in another, accord­ing to Farm­ers Busi­ness Net­work Inc., a San Francisco-​​area startup backed by Google Ventures.

FBN, which pro­vides farm­ing advice and sells sup­plies, last year launched a ser­vice allow­ing farm­ers to mon­i­tor what their peers nation­wide pay for hun­dreds of chem­i­cals. Farm­ers use the data to nego­ti­ate for lower prices from local retail­ers or buy prod­ucts directly from FBN.

To read the full arti­cle, visit The Wall Street Jour­nal.