This episode is brought to you by AgVend (www.AgVend.com)
Today’s installment of our Tech-Enabled Advisor series is really an insightful look at how a farmer-owned cooperative is leaning into the digital changes that are happening in our industry to remain relevant and provide value to their farmer shareholders. KC Graner is the senior vice president of agronomy at Central Farm Service, a co-op in southern Minnesota. As an advocate of the cooperative system, KC has spent his career embedded in member-owned organizations. Prior to taking on his role at Central Farm Service, KC worked at WinField United, serving over two dozen different retail cooperatives across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
For today’s episode, we are partnering with AgVend. You may remember AgVend from Episode 125 back in 2018 with CEO Alexander Reichert. AgVend is the leading provider of digital tools to serve the producer of tomorrow. Their suite of products is designed to strengthen the relationship between manufacturers, retailers, and growers by providing the agricultural distribution channel with white-labeled information, engagement, and commerce portals. They make it easier to do business with ag retailers, help them unlock profitability for their growers, and make more time for high-value touchpoints.
“What we've seen is the outperformance of growers who do leverage data and do look to it first in making their decisions. Those are the ones that are outperforming the rest…. Those are the growers that are picking up acres more rapidly.” - KC Graner
KC shares what offering an AgVend portal has done for Central Farm Service’s business. Central Farm Service has grown their locally-powered precision agriculture platform, which is called Central Advantage, to a 300,000 acre footprint that cooperates with two neighboring retailers. He sees their operation as a “B.S. meter” for the farmer and a way to trial and troubleshoot new technology to present the best options to producers.
“When I look at the adoption rate for use in our portal, there's a high correlation to those that are selling the most revenue and the most margin for the cooperative and using the portal. It's because they already naturally are the types of people that find ways to save time so they can do more.” - KC Graner
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Thanks to AgVend for sponsoring this episode. Make sure you go learn more about them at www.AgVend.com
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Today’s episode is broken down into three parts: first, a brief primer on some of the issues contributing to the issues in California. Second, one potential hydrological solution going forward: groundwater recharge. And finally, we’ll talk about water markets by highlighting the new Nasdaq Veles California Water Index. To help me tell each of these three stories I have for you three different guests that you’ll hear from today: Dr. Safeeq Khan, Dr. Helen Dahlke, and Lance Coogan.
You can also listen to previous episodes 159 with Dr. David Zetland, 161 with Adam Borchard, or 198 with Chris Peacock to get more information about these topics.
Resilient Biotics: https://resilientbiotics.com/
Fulcrum Global Capital: https://www.fgcvc.com/
My guest on today’s show is Chris Belnap, the CEO of Resilient Biotics, which is an early-stage animal health company that develops microbiome-derived, live therapeutics for livestock. In other words, they analyze the microbes that naturally live inside of cattle, then they administer those that are most beneficial to make the cattle more resilient to certain diseases. Specifically they are focused on a biological solution to bovine respiratory disease, which is currently very reliant on antibiotics.
Resilient Biotics is a portfolio company of Fulcrum Global Capital, which long time listeners will remember have partnered with me on several episodes in the past. What stands out about Fulcrum, and you can probably pick up on this if you’ve listened to all of these episodes with portfolio companies from their first fund, is that their LPs, their investors, are from production agriculture. They care about solving real problems in the food system.
One of the perks of these Fulcrum episodes for you and I is that we get to hear briefly from the investors first about what attracted them to this company, then we dive into the entrepreneur’s story. So joining me today is Fulcrum venture partner John Peryam, who along with his venture partners Duane Cantrell and Kevin Lockett, had been looking at potential companies who could help reduce reliance on antibiotics.
Ranveer Chandra: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/people/ranveer/
Overview of Azure FarmBeats: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/industry/agriculture/overview-azure-farmbeats
Microsoft has been making waves in the agtech industry with its FarmBeats project and Azure cloud computing service. That effort can be traced back to 2015 when today’s guest, Ranveer Chandra, wrote a memo which led to him starting and running the FarmBeats project. FarmBeats for those who do not know, provides a way to collect on-farm data and track that data using cloud computing models. It’s not a product that farmers buy, but it’s a platform that agtech companies build upon. In fact, previous guests of this show are customers of Microsoft to power their technology.
Ranveer is the Chief Scientist of Microsoft Azure Global, and Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research. He started the FarmBeats project at Microsoft in 2015, and has been leading it since then. He is also leading the battery research project, and the white space networking project at Microsoft Research. That is a project where he provided rural connectivity using unused TV channels. He was invited to the USDA to present his work on FarmBeats, and this work was featured by Bill Gates in GatesNotes, and was selected by Satya Nadella as one of 10 projects that inspired him in 2017. Ranveer has published more than 80 papers, and filed over 100 patents, more than 85 of which have been granted by the USPTO.
Both FarmBeats and the TV white spaces projects started with memos, and as you’ll hear, Ranveer wrote his 2020 memo on sustainability. So we also get into the discussion about sustainability metrics and Microsoft’s big open source carbon purchase from a few months ago.