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An Airbnb for farmland hits a snag, as farmers raise data privacy concerns (npr.org)
176 points by jessaustin 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 104 comments



There is actually more to this than is visible on the surface. And I can’t talk about some of it.

But here it is:

1. Climate Corp was part of Monsanto before it became Bayer. It was acquired by Monsanto. 2. John Deere wanted to buy Climate as well as Monsanto but that was struck down by US courts and Bayer bought Monsanto. 3. What was Climate Corp doing before? They had something called Field View where they charged farmers to collect and collate data. 4. All precision Ag, Ag robotics and farm data collections have two big industry ‘partners’: Wall Street and Farm input companies. 5. Now add farmland to Precision Ag/Ag robotics. 6. This is a kind of consolidation of land, inputs, data and machinery. 6. Eventually, all land will be owned by farm machinery companies and input companies. There won’t be any more farmers in the future but only farming corporations. 7. It goes back to Wall Street because big Ag is commodities.

I am a small scale farmer interested in small acreage Ag robotics to save labour. But no one was interested even though food is important and Ag is a big deal in the USA.

No investors, no traction, no interest and I have no qualms about cold calling...and down that rabbit hole, I found out that diff between food farming and commodity crop farming.

In reality, there is no agtech for food farming. In the USA anyways. Agtech is about land, inputs and mostly commodity crops. And speculation markets.

I don’t have an opinion. Maybe this is more efficient. Maybe it’s not a good idea. And this kind of Ag isn’t even what I am interested in and I just stumbled upon this while trying to figure why Agtech is such a big deal but I can’t find interest in automating food production.

It is pretty fascinating how Big Ag has managed to consolidate and rein in together. The players are still the same and it’s a few big corporations that will control this sector.

Many of the players and VC companies and start ups are well known but it’s not really necessary to drop those names. But anyone can connect the dots if they invested some time. It is literally a web ..six degrees and all that.

Back to the article, expect ‘family farmers’ to be separated from their land in the near and near-distant future. Already a lot of American farmland is owned by foreign countries/investors, pension funds, insurance companies, university wealth funds and hedge funds.


With formatting:

"""

1. Climate Corp was part of Monsanto before it became Bayer. It was acquired by Monsanto.

2. John Deere wanted to buy Climate as well as Monsanto but that was struck down by US courts and Bayer bought Monsanto.

3. What was Climate Corp doing before? They had something called Field View where they charged farmers to collect and collate data.

4. All precision Ag, Ag robotics and farm data collections have two big industry ‘partners’: Wall Street and Farm input companies.

5. Now add farmland to Precision Ag/Ag robotics.

6. This is a kind of consolidation of land, inputs, data and machinery.

6. Eventually, all land will be owned by farm machinery companies and input companies. There won’t be any more farmers in the future but only farming corporations.

7. It goes back to Wall Street because big Ag is commodities.

"""

(Command to format, since this comes up regularly: sed 's/ \([0-9]\. \)/\n\n\1/g')


>There won’t be any more farmers in the future but only farming corporations.

Is this any different than, "pretty soon there won't be any local movie rental places (or retail places), it'll just be content delivery corporations"?

I do share concerns about this kind of movement, and think it needs to be done judiciously, in every industry. However, I do not agree that just because you're "small" or "independent" you are inherently better or care more. There are pros and cons. People are people and don't become "evil" by working for larger firms.

Silicon Valley seems to be very suspicious of corporate consolidation in every industry, but turns a blind eye as Facebook/Google/Amazon do it on a scale rarely ever seen.


> People are people and don't become "evil" by working for larger firms.

The problem isn't that people working for larger firms are evil. They simply don't have a say in how things are run. Small independent businesses give back to their communities. Large corporations rarely even attempt to do the same and when they do it is ineffectual because it is centralised and bureaucratic.


But they sponsor charity and community events...


There's a fundamental difference between food and movies. Food is a basic necessity and quality food is essential to health. Commodity crops aren't quality food.


> Is this any different than, "pretty soon there won't be any local movie rental places (or retail places), it'll just be content delivery corporations"?

BTW, there is still one Blockbuster open [1].

[1] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/n7wwnq/the-worlds-last-bl...


I guess it's like there won't be movies any more, only netflix originals.


For those with an interest in large markets that are not often discussed on the clearnet:

[1] https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Kochland/Christopher-...


Thanks for the extremely insightful context.

With so much first-hand knowledge of this situation, I’m having a hard time processing how you don’t have an opinion on it. It seems that this is exceedingly detrimental to the well being of literally everyone and everything involved except for those that profit from it.


This is somewhat for discussion purposes. Farmers make a profit, a farmer retiring can liquidate his assets by selling his land to a pension fund where in the olden days he 'needed a son', the lessee of the land usually wouldn't start farming there is there isn't a profit involved. The produce gets sold to a middle man and an end user, again for a profit.

The company I work for is in finance (non-US) and has a pretty large investment in farmland, which we lease out up to very, very long contracts. As far as I can tell people are quite happy with our stewardship. We provide liquidity and give farmers the optionality to choose a different time horizon for their firm. We lease out lands for biological farming, sometimes have historical properties we maintain and lease out, do solar parks. It's like real estate but with a different time horizon.

Re the 'long game' discussion for finance and machinisation. The firm has literally been doing this for a few centuries so this hasn't been the original goal. I don't think it's come up yet as a current goal, although in all honesty I can see the appeal from a finance perspective. The farmer is the middleman we can cut out and replace by machines. First thought then is - what does it matter what the background of the owner doing the machinisation is?


> Re the 'long game' discussion for finance and machinisation. The firm has literally been doing this for a few centuries so this hasn't been the original goal. I don't think it's come up yet as a current goal, although in all honesty I can see the appeal from a finance perspective. The farmer is the middleman we can cut out and replace by machines. First thought then is - what does it matter what the background of the owner doing the machinisation is?

Sounds an awful lot like deskilling, so hopefully the labour concerned has an exit strategy.


I don't want to sound totally econofuturoptimistic, but No, it's not de-skilling in my book. I'd venture robotisation is actually re-skilling or up-skilling. Or in other words: the average education level of the employees after more and more capital flows in, goes up. And automisation / robotisation is nothing new in agriculture. You need a lot less labour, that's true. But that's the trend in agriculture for about 150 years (as far as I understand rice is one of the few crops that's pretty constant in hours per bushel). Modern day large farms are run by a handful of people (and an enormous supply chain on both sides). An example: The Netherlands is a substantial exporter of food, and farming is about 1.5% of GDP. That's astonishing.


A similar story is unfolding in mostly small-time US aviation mfg. Chinese companies have bought around 20 makers, like Mooney and Cirrus, in the past decade.

> With so much first-hand knowledge of this situation, I’m having a hard time processing how you don’t have an opinion on it.

Similarly, I don't have an opinion since the US regulators have decided to do nothing, and private capital is scarce in that sector - it is what it is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superior_Air_Parts

https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2011/february/2...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mooney_International_Corporati...


That reminds me of this (vagueyly related) article on unions and airlines:

https://philip.greenspun.com/flying/unions-and-airlines


Phil's a great aviation writer.

Beyond what he wrote, the regionals were created to union-bust, but the 1,500 hour rule has already closed most of them, giving captains even more power. :)


> I’m having a hard time processing how you don’t have an opinion on it.

It's admirable! There's almost nothing as rare on this site as a commenter who hasn't yet leapt to a conclusion.


It’s a very tangled web. If I were to summarize in one word, it is due to Subsidies.

Pensions and social security and international trade and Wall Street and subsidies are all tied together. It’s an infuriatingly tight ball of yarn.

If I have to be uncharitable, I would say that American macro economics is a Ponzi scheme. But..on the other hand..this is also why food is so cheap in the USA. As a country, we run on credit. This too gives an illusion of prosperity. Just think about it. How can you get 6 chicken nuggets do for $1.00 from Mickey D? Because. America. And that’s because of that ball of yarn. Try taking away the Happy Meal’esque comfort from Americans and there will be a (weak)revolution. It makes me surmise that this what America wants. Is that a good or a bad thing? Does it matter if I or anyone else have an opinion?

Here is what I am sure of and what troubles me:

1. You can’t ‘make’ land anymore. It’s a fixed asset and resource(water rights, mineral rights). 2. Land rights and resources are not renewable. 3. Land owning farmers have become poorer and poorer over the years..saddled by debt due to ..well..farming. Mostly in credit. 4. This is due to subsidies, credit to buy everything from expensive tractors, inputs, fertiiisers, seed etc. 5. Increase in population means more have to be grown in a smaller foot print of cultivable land. 6. Pressure to grow more. In farming, the more successful you are, you lose. Because of glut and law of economics(demand/supply/price). 7. Farmers are set up for failure. Value is derived from scarcity. When farmers are more productive, their margins shrink. I don’t know any other sector where this is true. 8. The credit lines and loans and debt is real tho’. 9. This will separate farmers from their land. 10. Money and financial instruments are man made constructs. Which means they are replicable. Land is fixed and can’t be created. When one is traded for another and the terms are written by one party, it’s is essentially a land grab. 11. This is why our dairy industry is almost gone. We rely on imports for food. Most mid west farming is corn and soy which is feed, fuel and fodder. Tyson exports to China. Smithfield is owned by China as are many livestock farms in az and Iowa. 12. Middle Eastwrn countries and China own acres and acres of farm land. And many more we don’t know through shell companies. This is rather common. 13. True for other places as well. Fonterra.. NZ’d dairy Co-op sold a portion to China and its milk powder division sells to China directly. China ships water from Australia and NZ. Canadian pension funds has invested in Australian dairy and cattle farms. I am not sure this is a good idea. 14. China has chronic food shortages and has to import to feed its 1.3 billion people. 15. Contrast this to India where they export excess in grains, spices, pulses etc with equivalent population and shrinking farmland. Main reason is the protection of farmland. Foreigners or foreign passport holders even if born in India can’t own farmland. (Unless they inherit farmland).

Food self sufficiency is very important. The first step to achieving it is to divorce food from speculation channels and interests. Protect farmland and water resources. This is something that has to be done globally and not just USA.

Edited to add: here is one more puzzle. American farmers growing corn and soy get subsidies to grow cheap food. But this is mostly for export. So in a way,...considering subsidies are funded by tax payer monies...aren’t we all paying taxes to subsidize exports? We are subsidizing American exports of cheap grain and not American farmers. The lion’s share of American farmers expenses(because what they make is so little compared to what they spend) goes to John Deere and Monsanto and seed companies and Syngenta et al. all publicly listed and traded companies. In a way American Ag IS Wall Street when you untangle this. But do we really want to do that? Do we really want to know where this leads?


> diff between food farming and commodity crop farming.

What is the difference between these? Aren't crops generally commodities? I’m familiar with the subsistence farmer term of the crops they eat verses the crops they sell, but the farmers sell both here.


I don't know what the original poster meant, but there are fruits and vegetables that are mostly picked by hand and usually sold fresh, which distinguishes them from things like wheat and corn that can be grown on very large farms with little labor because it's been mechanized.

There are a handful of commodity crops grown at very large scale, and then there is everything else.

https://modernfarmer.com/2015/03/specialty-crops-refer-to-we...


Is the concern that the growth of commodity farming will eliminate the production of fruits and vegetables? If so, I see the potential problem. But growth of commodity crops with no change in f/v seems like a non-issue.


Difference between commodities and food is subsidies. Commodities are also traded on Wall Street.


I'm guessing commodity crops in this context may refer to non-food crops, like corn for bio-ethanol, rapeseed, cotton, tobacco?


That was close to my guess, the only small difference is I would add some maybe-ends-up-in-food-eventually crops as well.

My family would refer to the roundup ready corn and soybeans we sold to the grain co-op as commodities, while the small sub-acreage of sweet corn grown to sell at the farmer’s market might be much more likely to be referred to as food.

Food being a perhaps overly generous word for partially hydrogenated soybean oil or high fructose corn syrup.


Commodity agriculture is any agriculture where the products are sold into the commodity markets, basically -- corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, pork, beef, etc.

Commodity agriculture is all about scale and price; there are certain quality standards that must be met (your corn must have a specific moisture content; your pigs must weigh in a certain range and be free of disease) but there is no real competition on the quality of the good produced. You assume all hard red wheat is fungible, and buy and sell it by the ton.

Some products exist in both commodity and non-commodity markets -- you can produce pork for the commodity markets, or your can sell it door to door.


> Commodity agriculture is all about scale and price; there are certain quality standards that must be met (your corn must have a specific moisture content; your pigs must weigh in a certain range and be free of disease) but there is no real competition on the quality of the good produced. You assume all hard red wheat is fungible, and buy and sell it by the ton.

Between regulations and grocery store standards, is that not basically all food?


By calories, certainly.

But fresh produce frequently exists outside the commodity market -- the individual grocery stores or chains have relationships with individual producers (or consortiums) to distribute their products.

Basically if your food is labeled with the name of the producer it isn't commodity agriculture -- for instance, bags of apples are frequently branded by the orchard which produces them, because the orchard is selling directly to the grocery store (maybe with a middle man or two doing the actual sales and distribution), and not selling into a generic "apple" market the way eg wheat producers do.


So, sprayed with more bug poison?

I wonder if this disconnect becomes detrimental to the land.


Bigger difference is the breed of plant. Commodity corn for instance is not something a human would eat normally without extreme processing.

One way it becomes human good is as feed for animals and another is being processed into adjuncts.

Sweet corn on the other hand is delicious to eat.

I tend to think commodities vs food is if there is a mainline futures contract for it.


I feel like a lot of “technology” companies are like this: consolidation of production and locking people out rather than actually making things more efficient.


Generally, those are the same. Manual labour does not scale well and is prone to error.


But there's a difference between selling a product that reduces manual labor, vs. selling a service that does the same - the latter being what usually locks people out.


Wow thanks for this info. What a shitty situation. Venture capitalists buying land to rent it back to farmers seems like the exact opposite of the kind of innovation we need.

I work for a small farming automation company. I’m designing a solar powered weeding robot. when you say “small scale” farming what do you mean? Its still early for us but it feels like we need to target farms that are hundreds or thousands of acres to justify the engineering investment. That may still count as “small” compared to the real big stuff, but it leaves out the really passionate five and ten acre organic farms I’ve come across.

My personal interest is in lowering the cost of healthy food production. Maybe we could talk more via email?

taylor {at} twistedfields.com


Thanks. I am interested in small acreage robotics to automate most of farming except harvest. Weeding is a very small part of growing food.

The reason Big Ag(not necessarily commodity Ag) is focused on giant weeding robots(for crops like potatoes, cotton, lettuce etc..those in the billion dollar club) is because the investment is coming from chemical inputs companies. It is very likely that the same pot of money going to finance Monsanto/Bayer is also funding Agtech and ag robotics because they are hedging their chemical industry investment. So if Ag stops using roundup, they’d use weeding robots and theair market share is protected.

Also why small scale food Ag is not dealt with right now. It’s too small a market and there is enough cheap labour and third world countries to import food from..maybe agtech will reach them eventually. But until then they won’t allow product cannibalisation. And if any small acreage Agtech or Ag robots become successful they will be bought out by the big investment firms or through smaller VCs and shelved. It will come out of its dark vault when the time feels right. We have the tech. It’s just not profitable to release it to farmers.

My goal is to automate everything with small robots and then scale by swarming them. I would love to connect. My email is my user name at gmail.


How could a robot keep more than a couple of acres weeded? Small amounts of acreage in real food would be more valuable to humans than vast tracts of frankenfood like Monsanto soybeans. There are already "at-scale" solutions for that crap: just spray it (and everything downwind!) with tons of noxious chemicals.


The other commenter is correct - swarms.

Also our robot is capable of spraying but will primarily use mechanical means to destroy weeds so there is no chemical use.


Above you said "it feels like we need to target farms that are hundreds or thousands of acres to justify the engineering investment." That seems like a reason not to fund your startup, because farms like that already have chemical weed control and giant corporations that already zealously own their souls. I was trying to encourage you to think smaller. By acre, vegetables are much more valuable than wheat and corn and beans, and there are human labor inputs that robots could replace.


The farms we’re looking to target are vegetable farms. They use human labor to weed their crops. The few I’ve spoken to have hundreds or thousands of acres total. They seem eager to get a robot like ours.


Haha I might have misread an "or" as an "of". Your robots sound great, a real benefit to humanity.


Ahh yes hundreds “of” thousands would be huge!

Long term, I’d love to automate the entire process. We just have to start somewhere. Weeding seems like a safe place to start, and there’s plenty more work to be found once we get our foot in the door.

I’ll tell ya one thing - I love working with robots outside. I mostly work in the office but I love getting out to test the machine. :)


Small robots swarmed.


A bit off-topic, but I'm very interested in gaining an insight into what do you think what kind of innovation we need, and why?


It’s a good question! I’ll be honest - I’m a robotics engineer not a farmer. I’ve found that weeding is a good place to start according to the farmers I’ve spoken to. But the real innovations needed should come from a large group of users. That’s why I’m doing my best to ensure we can open source our machine. I’m inspired by the way open source 3D printers crowd sourced much of the innovation that got us where we are today (along with many dedicated companies which made their own improvements).


And it's bad for everything, the environment, our health, the animals and many farmers. I'm sure you've read the Omnivores Dilemma?


Data privacy is something that I think isn’t really covered here.

Do the farming equipment companies share data? To be precise do the have the level of fidelity required to know information regarding the size of land when the equipment is in use as well as the toolset in the equipment?

This might conceivably allow equipment companies to sell data to stock market companies who speculate on futures.


Yes. Data is the key. You can’t automate and employ AI without harvesting data. That’s one of the reasons all this is being consolidated. Farmers are too fragmented to act together to generate and provide data that Ag AI/ML needs. There is no need for privacy if the same companies that own and run Everything.

This is what happened with Monsanto. First it was round up and other weedicides. Then they said we will sell you the seeds that is round up ready. And then they convince farmers what to grow and what inputs and fertilizers to buy. And then what to grow and how to much to grow per season. And soon the same investment funds will own the land too.

https://www.farm-equipment.com/articles/14150-consolidation-... : this sums it up. It’s a tad dated and more consolidation has happened since.

[..] The five companies currently seeking to combine their business enterprises — Dow + Dupont, Bayer + Monsanto and Syngenta, which is to be acquired by ChemChina — together would hold a 78% stake in the ag chemicals segment of the industry. It could put them in a position to squeeze out the remaining competition.[..]


Long term the Tillable idea won't fly. I worked with farmers as a fertilizer company agronomist for twenty years. If I understand it correctly Tillable is trying to insert themselves in the middle, acquire the right to sublease large amounts of land and mark it up.

Say you own a farm and lease it out. The family you lease your land to might be a neighbor. In the winter they might plow your driveway gratis. They add fertilizer and lime as needed. I've known farmers to even add small amounts of drainage tile at the beginning of a lease.

Now consider I'm a super large farmer who has rented your land through Tillable. Farming is a super thin margin business. I live two counties over so I am not going to plow out your driveway or look after your farm for you. I will pay top dollar, I will in effect mine your land to make a profit.

I won't put on fertilizer if levels are high and skip the lime. I will make a nice profit for a few years and then when yields drop I will drop the lease. Over time the price of the lease will drop sharply. So in effect the landlord will gain a few bucks short term but lose big time over the long term.

On a small scale I've seen this happen. When the landlord offers it back to the original renter he will be shocked and angry when he either refuses or offers a pittance.

The landlord either has to invest his own money on lime and fertilizer building the farm back up or have a series of short time renters from outside the county who take a chance on the land.


It sounds to me like you're making two points:

1. Tenant farmers often pay their landlord partially in kind, with things like driveway plowing. Outsider tenants wouldn't do this.

2. The tenant farmer has a wide range of options for how well to take care of the land, which affects its long-term value. Outsider tenants would optimize to maximize production during their lease at minimum cost, hurting long-term value.

I don't think (1) is a major issue: landlords can consider the in-kind benefits they get just as well as cash compensation. But (2) seems very serious to me. Market rates for land are much lower than they would be without the issue that the landlord needs to trust the tenant to be a good long-term steward. Whether Tillable can succeed long-term depends on whether they can solve this.


Yup, just like the formerly innovative companies that end up being managed by the financial types.

They now optimize for current profits and not market-leading innovation, so profits improve - for a (sometimes long) while. Then, the profits decline, and no amount of financial sleight-of-hand can make it improve, and the company is too far behind to invest in R&D to again lead.

It is making money by extraction not by creation. Nice while it lasts, but unsustainable.

If this method takes over for farmland, expect another 1930's dust bowl type of farm out put crash in some years (esp w/the increasing scarcity of critical potash/potassium).

So, let's hope this new 'Tillable' biz model dies sooner rather than later.


Sounds like issues that can be mitigated with a review system? The land owner can submit ratings on how well the farmer took care of their land. Once it's all on a platform, they can quantify all these things, reducing the farmers down to a set of metrics. Obviously pretty dystopian but this is what I've seen it done on other marketplaces, such as Upwork.


I hear this a lot, but all the farmers I know (UK) are wealthy, they have big houses and expensive vehicles, large families, buy up lots of local properties (buoying property prices, ie pushing them higher) ...? So, does the small margin matter if it covers high wages for the limited number of workers needed? Or am I mislead?


So then the land owner goes bankrupt and has to sell the land and Tillable buys it.


This is the first I've heard of Tillable. As described, it's not really AirBnB for farmland, it's a growing-rights exchange.

The counterparty risk for landowners is substantial if it isn't mitigated somehow. A long-term relationship with the land is essential to keeping it healthy.

The relationships between farmers and landowners often span generations -- that makes them ripe for disruption, but the many practices that have emerged to safeguard those relationships have good reasons to exist. So many deals of substantial value are made in in-kind exchanges between neighbors who have worked side by side for decades. Rapidly-changing tenants would change everything.


As somebody who manages some family land, I wholeheartedly agree. Going back to 1830, there are only three other families we have trusted to lease our land. Some generations we lease their land. Other generations they lease ours. I’ve seen a cousin’s land destroyed for years by outside farmers. I know I could make some good money by leasing to an outsider for a few seasons, but they will use and abandon it, and it will take several seasons to recover. What’s the point in that?


One could imagine sufficient contracts to preserve the land's value/health, but they would be difficult to write and add friction.

A lot of conservation/preservation is easier if you know you're going to be leasing it for years and the landlord is your neighbor.


No contract enforces anything against a corporation who is willing to waste your time in court. They have employees who waste the time of poor farmers in court every day. They use what they learn in court to write progressively more evil contracts. When is the last time any of these farmers hired a lawyer so skilled at contract law? Is such a lawyer available in their state? In any neighboring state?


Trust is probably the greatest optimization humanity has ever had. Which is why I'm wary of the ongoing trend of removing the dependency on trust in all matters of life.


My family has leased land to the same family farmers for 30+ years. I went to school with the kids the are likely to to inherit the business. If I inherit some of my family's land, I have no interest in messing with the deal--they've been great long-term tenants.

These are also the sorts of people and deals where it's you get x% of the crop, a handshake, and a check once per year.


Kull’s previous startup, 640Labs, was purchased by Climate Corporation.

Smith had to wonder: Did Tillable target specific landlords because it got access to data about how productive and profitable their land is?

Climate Corp is a division of Monsanto. Wanna bet they have their own data about crop yields?


I hope this doesn’t discourage farmers from using technology to improve efficiency, yields, profits, etc.

I can’t imagine how tough it is to farm for your livelihood. The pressure on farmers must be brutal - from John Deere making it impossible to fix/own your own tractor[0] to climate change, and now your landlord might not renew your lease.

At that point, why put so much effort into something with so little upside and so much downside for the farmer.

[0] https://www.wired.com/2015/04/dmca-ownership-john-deere/


> I hope this doesn’t discourage farmers from using technology to improve efficiency, yields, profits, etc.

Throughout history of settled humans, Farmers have always been at the brink of technological progress. The wheel, the plow, and all sorts of machines. It's a common theme to depict them as technologically backwards, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Another common but misguided theme is to depict them as stupid, which they aren't in any form or fashion. They know when something is harmful to them, and this is an instance.


> Farmers have always been at the brink of technological progress.

You would think we would see more automation and fewer cows being milked by hand were this true.


The primary method of milking cows in the US has been by machine for decades...

And most farms in the US are highly automated: automated sprinklers, automated tractors, automated planters, automated harvesters (of crops that are amenable to machine harvesting).

It's simply that there are a lot of food crops that are trivial for humans to harvest by hand that would require very expensive machinery and technology to accomplish with a machine.


This. The supply of cheap human labor tends to make technological progress slower.


Did you have specific areas where there should be more automation? There is a lot of automation in farming.The tractors can drive themselves and planters continuously monitor and correct themselves. What is your definition of milking by hand? I suspect the percentage of cows milked by hand is extremely low. Even small family farms use milking machines.


You should do a web search for cow milking technology. Moral milk? DeLaval International, a large Swedish producer of dairy and other farming equipment, is installing 24 robotic voluntary – meaning the cows approach the stations on their own


I worked on a dairy farm for years. The jobs done by hand are done by hand for a reason.


The amount of hand milked product in the western world is miniscule. Probably there is a niche market but eco yuppies for hand milked pasture etc.


> improve efficiency, yields, profits

But those are already maximized to hell and back, to the detriment of the other crucial factors (e.g. Monarch Butterflies going extinct.)


Family farming in Pennsylvania died years ago from land competition.

The first general category of threat came from industrial farming. Large corporations started acquiring land in order to optimize profits for their monocultures. Over time, much of the land that was historically family farms became mega-farms that out compete any new family farms.

The second general category of threat was real estate developers. They would buy up land, often from the people who used to rent to farmers. At first they might not raise rents at all. But later when the market was agreeable, they'd raise rents until farmers couldn't afford to farm it, and then develop it for more profitable commercial or residential use. (interestingly, many plots that weren't being developed sat empty, and so some farmers would actually guerilla-farm it for years/decades)

A third general category was non-developers (usually the inheritor of older farms or land owners) who owned lots of land and rented it to farmers. They would "suggest" that the most profitable crop be placed and that they receive a cut, or they'd rent the land to someone else when the lease was up. So over time most land went to farming corn even if the farmer wanted to grow real food, and eventually that land would get sold to one of the two above.


Is is too uncharitable of me to think of Tillable as a VC-funded vehicle to make sharecropping even worse than it already was?


Agreed, it seems like yet another iteration of a company that starts off by disrupting a market to make it more liquid, but whose endgame is becoming the dominant or sole rentier in that space.


Exactly, they sound like an unnecessary middle man that disrupts established relationships with promises of higher rents, which will end up killing the smaller farmers in favour of the large corporate farmers.


On the other hand, as a small farmer, I am small because it is very difficult to find land that isn't already tied up in established relationships, often to those large corporate farmers. If something like this can give me an in with a landowner that I currently don't have, it helps my small farming business.


Someone probably saw what WeWork was doing and decided to try the business model out with farming


In India big farmers rent their land to big corporations and sit back relax and collect rent dollars.

Many have become millionaire overnight by doing this.

Government started taxing farmers for this reason. Untill recently, all farm income was tax free.

The case in point being that MNCs are producing the kind of output, no farmer here ever could dream of producing.

And the con? All they need is a huge piece of land.

Very little labor if any is used in this.

Most small farms are not profitable as overhead of bringing machine or labor to small farm is just too high.

I know a few farmers who sold their few hectares land in Punjab and brought several thousands of hectare land in Australia.

So you can how inflated the price of farm land is in India.

Now after making enough money in Australia, they are buying back their ancestral lands and this is sending the price of farm land in Punjab through the roof.


If the farmers have decades long relationship with the landowners this looks like a power play by tillable/VCs to get in there and take a recurring cut. They know the farmers have no option but to rent land and the VCs know it. So they are using their money to pay cash to landowners and get them on the site. Probability wise there is a 90% chance that the land will be rented by the same farmer as before because of land proximity issues. So it’s just free money for tillable.


Yeah, they quote Parker Smith saying they’re making connections that wouldn’t otherwise happen, but that’s obviously a lie. The farmers don’t need a ‘market maker’ if they’re already renting land from landlords they know. And it’s not like they can move operations around randomly, like an apartment or hotel room.


So, why would the farmer use it then?


Because he needs land to farm on, or he stops being a farmer and has to shut down his business.

He will now pay e.g. $1000. Tillable will offer $1100 upfront to the land owner and then "offer" it to the farmer for the low price of $1200. Since he can't just farm on some piece of land 500 miles away, he can either pay the new price, or stop farming.

Tillable offers no significant service here. It's not that there's a lot of land sitting idle because farmers and land owners have no way to come in contact, they are not solving a problem, they are just injecting themselves to extract rent with VC money.


If the farmer is willing to accept a $1200 price, then what prevents the land owner from charging $1200 right now? All the factors you list which push the price up apply just as well for the current owner-renter negotiations.

The scenario you describe is possible only if there is a lot of land that's severely mispriced / underpriced - in which case the price should and would get corrected, and after that the arbitrage opportunity disappears because, as you say, the land owner can come in contact directly with the farmer and make arrangements.


>> If the farmer is willing to accept a $1200 price, then what prevents the land owner from charging $1200 right now?

The same reasons that have kept my landlord from raising the rent me and my partner pay in over 14 years now. When we asked him if he didn't want a raise (we were concerned he was not making enough and would have to sell the house) he said that no, he prefers to know that the house is rented long-term and he doesn't have to find a new tennant every few months.

So, basically: stability. Some people tend to value that very highly. I know I (and my partner) do, which is btw the reason why we've stayed in the same place for over 14 years. That and all the scare stories of asshole landlords we've heard from friends who moved frequently (we're in the UK btw).


> If the farmer is willing to accept a $1200 price, then what prevents the land owner from charging $1200 right now?

Basic human decency? These are often long-term relationships between neighbours, whose families lived next to each other for decades or hundreds of years.


But those with such decency wouldn't turn to Tillable to capture an extra buck, so it remains unclear where you think Tillable fits.


Apparently nobody turns to Tillable. It's Tillable that's turning to land owners and tries to convince them to not renew their contracts with farmers so Tillable can negotiate new contracts with higher prices, likely with the same farmers (as farming is very much a local thing, you can't farm a piece of land from a thousand miles away).


That only brings us back to the question of why landowners wouldn't go directly to the farmer and ask for the hypothetical $1,200 that Tillable would also ask of them? It is not exactly difficult to figure out who the farmers are in your local area, and it is especially not very difficult to figure out which ones are the hungry ones willing to pay top dollar, if that is your goal. Chances are they have already been hounding you for years. Exactly because people don't normally seek farmland a thousand miles away, where there could potentially be a benefit in new introductions, it remains unclear where Tillable fits.


I believe it's similar to smart phones being produced by humans at the other end of the world who live in bunk beds, have 10-12 hour shifts and barred windows + nets below so they don't jump out trying to kill themselves. Most people at this end of the world are not okay with those conditions and do not tolerate them if they know about them. But put a suit at Apple and another suit at Foxconn between the consumer and the producer and they don't know about it. When it comes out, people are appalled and Apple & Foxconn have to shift strategies or face consumers shunning them. Tillable are those suits.

Land owners are not in the business of maximizing profits at any cost, but if you approach them with a much better offer for their land, they don't see the ways how you're able to afford that offer, much like the smart phone buyer does not know why it doesn't cost $100 more. When people profit from something, they are usually not too concerned with the details and accept that things happen that they wouldn't allow if they knew about it, by turning a blind eye (blinded by the profit, you might say).


People are willing to pay more to Apple than to Foxconn for an iPhone simply because intellectual property law prevents Foxconn from realistically selling the iPhone at a lower price. When one decides the iPhone is the device for them, they have little choice but to buy it from Apple at whatever price Apple has decided to charge. If there were no such IP encumberments, Foxconn would sell an identical device for a lower price and people would quickly forget who Apple even is.

Farmers approach landowners with better offers all the time with no qualms about paying top dollar to get it. Being a farmer myself, I can tell you first hand that competition for land if fierce. Sometimes the approaching farmer is taken up on the offer, sometimes not. But I see no real indication of pent up demand that isn't being satisfied because people cannot figure out who the landowners are. There is literally a land registry, if all else fails. But rural communities are small. You already know who owns what, and conversely who farms what.

It remains: Where does Tillable fit?


Exactly that. And while I hope this won't work because it's mostly trying to insert itself between a landowner and their neighbourhood farmer, there's probably enough less personal relationships in this space for Tillable to find a foothold, from which they'll continue "disrupting" the space.

(Worth remembering that disrupting evokes, particualrly in this context, the picture of a disruptor - a weapon used by evil Klingons and sneaky Romulans.)

Your explanation makes me think of a paraphrase I like to post: the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is to separate good men from it with enoungh layers of indirection.


And that brings us back to my original answer: why would they? Trying to extract maximum profit from the counterparty is adversarial, whereas a relationship between a land owner and a neighbourhood farmer most likely is cooperative.

EDIT: for the same reason, I don't think Tillable has a chance of working, and to the extent it does, it's actively destructive.


And now we're just talking in circles. Before your original 'answer', the scenarios presented were that farmers who:

1. Want to extract as much money as possible will turn directly to the farmers willing to pay top dollar to maximize the take.

2. Want to build solid relationships with farmers will turn directly to farmers to find a suitable fit.

The question presented before your original reply was in trying to understand where Tillable fits. Your answer did not provide that information, and your follow up still does not attempt to answer the question.

Your edit seems to suggest that they don't fit, as was already established, which leaves us wondering what your original response was for?


Presumably tillable will make the same dela to every landowner in the area, reducing the competition between landowner and therefore enabling the increase in prices.

In essence, tillable becomes the only landowner


"Willingness" vs "No other choice but shut down". It's similar to how you're "willing" to "accept" increased taxes. You don't have to, of course, you can leave the country, but I wouldn't consider that willing acceptance.

As TeMPOral mentioned in a sibling comment, mostly their long-standing relationship, and his non-predatory business model. Right now, he's a land owner. If he uses Tillable, he's a property investor.


Bingo. It's literal rent seeking.


For now it's fueled by VC cash so people will adopt it because of it. This gives Tillable growth numbers that impress investors to give even more money and so on, until it's so large that it can apply ideas of scale, like integrating vertically in some form.

The vertical integration Uber envisions is self driving cars. Any company which has a foot in the hauling market will have an advantage over a purely self driving research company. The vertical integration of Tillable would involve things like buying the land, renting out machines, completely automating the work, etc. Something like that.


Yes, but he smart landowners will realize that the same farmers will now need to pay more, and have a less direct and shorter-term connection to the land.

The farmer will have less means, and less motivation to invest in proper fertilization & care of the land.

This pushes everyone to a pure extractive business model, and away from investment.

The result will be land that is worth less until it is worthless.

All for a few more bucks up front.

Capitalism is not solving any problem here, it is creating a massive problem. What's the solution when a massive portion of the arable land is worthless?


The Fed's response to the pandemic has been essentially to bail-out every financial instrument. Today we are seeing deflationary pressures. But this is only in the short term. Eventually this unprecedentedly massive printing of money will turn inflationary. We have possibly (I don't know) run the course of inventing new financial instruments to turn money into more money. Or maybe the Fed will continue to exceed its charter and and encourage moral hazard.

One thing is for sure, smart capitalists are searching for real assets to acquire. There is a tsunami of capital looking for preservation in the face of coming inflation. Look for consolidation of small residential leases, productive farmland, productive forestry and mineral land and leases in a big way.


This sounds an awful lot like tortious interference.


What else would such a partnership be used for?


Possibly: trying to ensure that the renters do not use up the land they are renting.


Any heredity industry is going to be kinda backward.


[flagged]


Your core point, that American farming is heavily subsidised, is sound. The rest is unwarranted.


Did you have a bad experience on a farm?

> full of generational land princes who are hicks

That is pretty uncalled for and ignorant. You seem to have an agenda so I'm not going to waste much time other than to say that I see no evidence that you know anything about actual farming.


> Farming is an inefficient industry full of generational land princes who are hicks.

If you’re ever the type of person to wonder why someone like Trump could win the presidency, I highly suggest you first look inward.




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