Farmers Edge Reprioritizes Go-to-Market Strategy and Slashes Staff While Co-Founder Launches Competitive Agronomy Business
At Upstream, the focus has never been to break news or write about industry hearsay. I have no intention of moving away from that focus either. However, when I receive over a dozen consistent messages from those that are a combination of farm customer, employee, ex-employee or enterprise customer I follow that directional arrow closely and analyze the potential implications on the business and industry based on what I am confident in being real.
This article includes:
Highlights about recent changes to Farmers Edge global business along with their North American business
Changes in Farmers Edge customer support
What the news means for Farmers Edge business priorities
The future of Farmers Edge carbon business
Will these business changes make Farmers Edge successful long term?
The news from Farmers Edge also coincides with a separate announcement from their co-founder and former CEO, Wade Barnes, and his new endeavor Ronin Agronomy, which is tied in at the end.
Starting in June I received messages that Farmers Edge had pulled out of Australia, with screenshots of messages from the company to customers and staff being sent to me via Twitter direct message. I do not think this was surprising. While I feel for the individuals who have had their livelihood impacted, one of the simplest business decisions for incoming CEO Vibhore Arora to make was to cut costs and focus their business geographically, something I talked about last year.
Australia made up about 3% of their employee base and about 1% of their revenue base, according to their company filings:
Our revenue mix by geography for the year ended December 31, 2022 is as follows: 35% Canada, 44% United States, 17% Brazil, 4% other.
EDIT: July 24th 2023 4:22pm MT: This article originally stated that Farmers Edge was exiting their business operations in Brazil. This was inaccurate. Farmers Edge is remaining in Brazil and sees a significant growth opportunity in the geography. I apologize to Farmers Edge for sharing the inaccurate information and to readers for not doing the proper diligence in getting details shared accurately.
If Farmers Edge is ever to reach cash flow positivity, focus is necessary.
I also suspected they would prioritize their core geography: western Canada and the Northern Plains of the USA, and emphasize enterprise software offered to the likes of ag retailers.
This is where the messages I received this week have come in.
Farmers Edge has allegedly begun to shut down its operations hubs and notified staff that their roles will become obsolete at the end of August in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario, along with most of its hubs in the USA. Staff members in the affected regions were given until the end of August to close up offices and tie up loose ends.
My understanding is that there will be less than a hand full of hubs operating in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the northern US states to service their direct-to-farm precision service customers.
For those farm customers that worked directly with Farmers Edge and received boots-on-the-ground support that fall out of the geography of the in-person support, they will be transitioned to virtual support, apparently a call center. If farmers are newly into a long-term contract with Farmers Edge, this is likely to be an unfortunate change to their service experience.
Farm customers that purchased services through enterprise retail customers will have support from their retail contacts.
“Virtual” support is notable. The unit economics of in-person, boots-on-the-ground support has been one of the biggest challenges with Farmers Edge business model. It’s also been a differentiator for them— implementing precision agronomy can be a full-time job for even great farmers and comes with a lot of complexity.
Farmers Edge made up one side of the precision ag paradox — employ staff for a high-touch service offering, and you get high costs and lower margins. The alternative side is offer a low-touch service, and you get low grower implementation and high turnover, albeit higher margins on the few you retain.
Given this, one has to assume Farmers Edge knows many of these virtually serviced acres will turnover— but the ones that do remain will have a much higher contribution margin to the business.
This service change illustrates that their direct-to-farmer business will be a small contributor to their future revenue and profits. It then becomes apparent they are focusing in two areas:
Enterprise offerings (FarmCommand as ag retail SaaS, crop input marketplace CommoditAg)
Carbon business (Soil lab, carbon offsets, insetting efforts)
Note: They do have an insurance business too.
Their enterprise offerings have a fit, albeit they are in a competitive space with the likes of TELUS Agriculture (which renamed their ag retail software, Agrian, to TELUS Agronomy this week) plus in a space I am not bullish on with crop input marketplaces. There is a long tail of farmers that could want access to inexpensive crop inputs such direct shipments of straight urea or generic crop protection products, but I don’t see that taking Farmers Edge to success. For background, they sold just $5.6 million in crop inputs in 2022 and even if they 5x that over the coming two years, they are selling the equivalent of just one good-sized ag retail location.
What stands out the most to me with this news though, is the future of their carbon business.
Can Carbon Get Farmers Edge to Profits?
Like precision ag implementation, carbon offset creation is challenging for farmers to do on their own.
At it’s most simple, the Farmers Edge carbon business would rely on three things to create an offset:
Successful implementation of carbon-reducing practices, such as variable rate fertilizer application or lower tillage that are consistent with a qualifying protocol, as two examples.
Effective soil sampling.
Data to verify compliance with the protocol.
With the help and support of boots-on-the-ground agronomists, all three of these points can be accomplished and Farmers Edge has successfully done so according to Amit Pradhan, vice-president of strategy with Farmers Edge in the Manitoba Cooperator:
We have done a good job at serializing these offsets. Where we have not done a good job is selling them
Without the boots-on-the-ground staff, the job of serialization gets more challenging. It’s not impossible, but it likely requires more staff in the carbon business and more part-time soil samplers at the very least. Again, implementation of these practices can be a challenge without in-person support.
The second half of the comment is interesting, too, because if they can’t sell the off-sets today to make money, farmers will be even less open to working with them on future carbon initiatives.
What is it that could be driving this inability to sell off-sets? I don’t know, but three potential things come to mind (or a combination of them):
Higher expectations for prices per offset/view on the future market going higher (eg: not willing to sell below a certain price)
No demand for their off-set quality or protocol used.
Lowering demand for agriculture carbon off-sets in general.
Two of these can be managed, the last is a fundamental question that remains uncertain for all companies relying on the carbon market.