Amol Deshpande: Illini entrepreneur and cultivator
Farmers tend to operate independently. Amol Deshpande, ’00 LAS, is changing that with Farmers Business Network, a farmer-to-farmer network in which members share data about fertilizer, chemicals, seeds and more. The CEO and co-founder talked to us about how his company helps farmers.
What’s your personal connection to farming?
My dad spent a lot of his career working with farmers on environmental issues—like how to create bioenergy. He introduced me to a guy who had invested in an indoor fish farm. That gave me the opportunity to learn about the agriculture industry [after college] and I fell in love with it.
How did the concept of Farmers Business Network originate?
From working on the fish farm, I discovered that farming is a low-margin, labor-intensive business where you have very little control, and you deal with a lot of volatility and risk. I feel it’s essential that farmers share insights and knowledge and collaborate, so that they can [prosper]. In farming, information is typically anecdotal and shared at the coffee shop. [By comparison, we independently verify and fact-check the data and share it with the community.] Everybody benefits.
How does FBN help a farmer in, say, Peoria?
It could be as simple as helping a farmer realize that there’s another hybrid [seed] available that will work as well [as what he’s using] but at a lower cost. That change may save a farmer $5 or $10 an acre in costs. For a 3,000-acre farmer, that could translate into a $15,000-$30,000 increase in profitability.
How do you add farmers to your network?
If there’s an economic benefit to sharing their information, farmers are glad to do it. We have a network of 3,600 farmers. A lot of our new business is referral-based. We also have a large and growing sales team in the field. We’re up to 130 employees, and we’ll probably double that over the next