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Paul Greive and his in-laws decided to raise 50 chickens in their ¼ acre backyard, when those sold quickly he bought more, eventually becoming the largest pastured poultry producer in the country.
To scale Pasturebird, they built their own automated range coop to autonomously move 6,000 birds to new pasture every day using solar energy. This growth and innovation caught the attention of one of the largest animal protein companies in the country, Perdue Farms, who acquired Pasturebird in 2019.
Janette Barnard returns to co-host today’s episode which is an incredible story of entrepreneurship, technology, regenerative farming, and a glimpse into the future of agriculture.
Today’s episode is a unique approach to farmland investing. Farmland LP buys farmland and adds value by doing things like planting higher value crops, converting to certified organic, and implementing regenerative farming practices. The company then leases the land back out to farmers who agree to maintain these practices. Joining us on the show today is Farmland LP founder and managing partner Craig Wichner. Craig founded Farmland LP in 2009 and is responsible for day-to-day management, business strategy and all investment activity. He is a seasoned executive with nearly 30 years of experience building companies and investing. Craig has also helped to manage his family’s real estate portfolio of apartment buildings for over 25 years. He also serves on the board of BN Ranch, Bill Niman’s successor company to Niman Ranch.
Craig and I have a fascinating and wide ranging conversation about investing in farmland, their strategies for acquiring property and adding value, and how he is thinking about the future of agriculture and this asset class of farmland. As you’re about to hear, Craig’s not afraid to call it like he sees it, especially when it comes to sustainability related topics. He sees a lot of greenwashing going on in agriculture and wants to see more data-backed metrics of improving the lands in which we farm.
FoA 238: 5 Barriers Limiting Agtech: https://aggrad.libsyn.com/foa-238-5-barriers-limiting-agtech-and-the-companies-breaking-through-them
FoA 275: Digital Infrastructure for Ag Supply Chains: https://aggrad.libsyn.com/foa-275-digital-infrastructure-for-ag-supply-chains-with-jake-joraanstad-and-jesse-vollmar-of-bushel
Bailey Stockdale is the CEO of Leaf Agriculture which builds developer tools for agriculture. What that means exactly is what we’re going to spend most of today’s episode talking about, but in the meantime, you can think of them as the company that enables integrations between technology providers so that the user experience is seamless. In other words, technology users will never know they exist. Their customers are technology providers in the industry.
People like Brendan Bachman, who joins Bailey and I on today’s show. Brendan is the Senior Agronomy Technology Manager at GROWMARK/FS, which is one of the largest producer owned coops in the U.S. Brendan has worked there for about 16 years in various agronomy and technology capacities. For the past five years he’s been in thor sole working in strategy and implementation of different ag technologies with their various member companies and working with agtech companies to help them find market fit with growers.
After Bailey’s first appearance on this podcast in episode 238 we also featured Bushel in episode 275 diving deeper into the concept of digital infrastructure. Both of those would be great to re-listen to with this one. Today you’re going to get something though that you didn’t get in those past two episodes: a tangible example of why digital infrastructure is needed, how companies like leaf work with technology providers, and we’ll end with a deeper exploration into how an infrastructure provider makes money, differentiates themselves, and deals with competition. This is a different episode, but one I found really fascinating. One technical note: Bailey’s air pods failed us towards the end of the interview, so you’ll notice his audio quality change pretty drastically. But stick with it: he has some really interesting comments towards the end about how all of this plays out for the future of agriculture.
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A point we try to drive home as often as possible here is that innovation on its own doesn’t really get anywhere until it can be implemented. For agriculture, that often means that the ideas we talk about here on this show need to actually work for farmers. So for the future of agriculture to be more data-driven or more technological or more regenerative, the tools and practices will have to be executable. And for farmers to find this out, they will need to experiment with them. Which is very risky.
Luckily there are programs to help absorb some of that risk. A lot of them involve free money in the way of grants, or very cheap loans. But to access these programs requires an often tedious process of seeing if you are eligible then applying then waiting to hear back then keeping up with the ongoing reporting.
Lowering these barriers is exactly where FarmRaise comes in. Jayce Hafner is the co-founder and CEO of FarmRaise. What’s interesting about this episode is not only the impact they are having for farmers, nearly 10,000 so far and $9M in funding applications, but also where they hope to take the company. Today, they offer a freemium model where a farmer can check their eligibility on 15 programs for free or pay $25/month to check eligibility on hundreds of programs, apply to them in less than 15 minutes, and get ongoing support.
Jayce sees this as just the beginning. This valuable service can grow into many more financial services including lending, ecosystem services, and even tax support. In the interview I compare it to H&R Block for farmers, but she quickly corrects me that it’s more like TurboTax. Which is fair. FarmRaise just announced they closed a $7.2M seed round led by Susa Ventures as well as angel investments from some notable names including former podcast guest Zach Johnson (The Millennial Farmer). They also have some really interesting distribution partnerships with Corteva and Cargill with others scheduled to be announced this year. We talk about that as well. There’s so much here to dive into and I think you’ll find this full interview to be well worth your time.
Jayce grew up on a livestock farm in Virginia, where she saw first hand how these financial incentives can improve a farming operation. Before FarmRaise, she invested in agriculture with SLM Partners, completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Trinidad and Tobago, and worked on environmental sustainability at Apple. Jayce has led policy coalitions at several United Nations COP climate negotiations and founded a record-breaking conservation coalition that mobilized 100,000 citizens to advocate for the Arctic Refuge. She has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, an MS in Agriculture from the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.