Tillable, an online marketplace connecting farm owners and potential tenants, has secured $8.25 million in Series A funding.
Food and agtech-focused incubator The Production Board and Philadelphia-headquartered seed stage venture capital firm First Round Capital co-led the round. The pair were joined by Silicon Valley Angel, a seed fund, and small family offices. The capital will be used to support software development and ongoing sales and marketing efforts for the 2019 crop year.
Launched in mid-2018, Chicago-based Tillable connects landowners with potential farmers to negotiate digital leasing agreements; track and share performance data; and manage payments. The company has assembled a network of 5,000 growers and landowners across more than two dozen states, with an initial focus on in Illinois, Iowa and southern Minnesota.
Growers complete a profile displaying the size of their existing operation, years of experience and what they are looking to grow along with descriptions of their software tools, farming equipment and practices. In addition, growers provide bank, landowner and trade references. After a property has been listed by its owner on the platform for a set duration, growers make offers to rent the farm.
Co-founder Corbett Kull told Agri Investor Tillable is not yet collecting growers’ financial information or performing credit checks, though such services might be added to the platform in the future.
Founded to address data gaps the company says leads landowners to accept less than the maximum possible rent for their farmland, Kull said he has been surprised by the degree of interest Tillable has attracted from institutional owners.
Tillable has already been used to successfully connect farmers with institutional investor landowners, Kull said without disclosing the identity of any such institution.
“If price discovery is valuable to a retiree who has farmland in Illinois, it most certainly is valuable to an institutional landowner that owns hundreds of thousands of acres spread across multiple states,” Kull said. “Our price discovery process is just a much more efficient way to make sure they are in fact getting fair market value.”
While many institutional investors highlight their local networks in key markets, Kull said such human networks do not constitute a true marketplace and information gleaned through them suffers from a lack of reliability or an over-reliance on potentially flawed data, such as that provided by the USDA.
Another aspect of Tillable’s service that can be of use to institutions, Kull said, is in its providing a sense of the existing network of qualified growers active in a given area.
“We can help landowners understand if there are enough good growers in a particular area to make it a safe investment,” he said. “People get very fixated on the farmland itself, but you need to understand the participants in the marketplace to understand if you can have an efficient market take place.”
Kull – who previously served as co-founder of 640 Labs, a precision farming platform acquired by Monsanto-affiliate the Climate Corporation in 2014 – said the years since has seen significant growth in agtech investment.
“A lot has changed since 2013,” Kull said. “There is an awareness that technology can improve the quality of food and the abundance of good. The light bulb has finally been turned on that we all have to eat, the food has to come from somewhere and technology should play a role in the production of our food.”