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    Founder of Tillable talks about technology that helps the landowner

    Technology is becoming an important part of farming and is moving forward at a rapid pace; however, its functions are not taking into account the needs of the landowner, according to Corbett Kull, the guest speaker at the January 14th meeting of The Chicago Farmers and the founder and CEO of Tillable, an ag tech company that is designed to help landowners become wiser about their holdings.

    “Tillable’s goal is to help the landowner become better at what he is doing,” said Kull, who also is a founder and a principle of 640 Labs, a Chicago-based technology company (acquired by The Climate Corporation in 2014) that collects, stores, and visualizes agricultural data to help growers improve their operations. “Tillable is able to guide the landowner through several considerations that will strengthen a landowner’s position.”

    Kull said a landowner must:

    • Pick the best grower for your farm
    • Establish a fair rent
    • Sign a lease, do not conduct business with a verbal agreement
    • Ensure you are paid on time
    • Acquire data about the farm, such as yield maps and the fertilizing schedule (Tillable works to get this data in an easy manner and provides it to the landowner)
    • Reduce “headaches” associated with managing farmland investments

    Kull said that agriculture is changing, but the tools that can help landowners have not kept pace with the times as they have for growers. He noted that there have been tremendous productivity gains in farming--outputs are up by 107 percent during the last several years and yields on corn and soybeans are up. Kull also shared that the amount of land being farmed today is down from previous generations. Much of the best land is taken out of production due to subdivisions, he said.

    “As we move forward, the greatest gains in agriculture will be due to automation,” said Kull. “There is more professionalism in farming. The young people who are coming out of college have more tools and capabilities at their disposal than their grandparents did.”

    Kull commented on the development of autonomous tractors and showed a brief video of the tractors in action on a farm in Iowa. While not in widespread use now, the tractors will be in the near future and landowners will then have more options available to them. “In the future, there will be less labor and more data; landowners need to be more sophisticated. Landowners have to know what their land is worth and Tillable is making sure that landowners know that worth,” he said.

    Major problems facing landowners are how to connect with effective and efficient growers and how to set the rent. Tillable works to bring the landowner and the grower together and provides the data necessary to set a fair market rent.

    Through accumulation of data, Tillable is able to make a landowner aware of the worth of the farm. At the same time, it works to ensure the landowner gets the most qualified grower for the farm. Kull said Tillable gives the landowner access to information about a potential grower that indicates if the grower will be a good steward of the land based on past performance.

    Kull stressed the importance of obtaining several growers’ offers and setting up electronic payment schedules. He said that landowners who have worked with Tillable have received more offers from growers and have increased rent proceeds by 35 percent. “Think of Tillable as Airbnb plus Zillow plus a farm manager on a digital platform,” related Kull.

    Currently, Tillable’s client base includes 500 landowners and 4500 growers. It operates across 10 states. Kull said that Tillable receives a two percent fee from both the landowner and the grower on a transaction. He said there is no obligation for a landowner to change their grower, but Tillable provides access to a wider network of area farmers.

    Kull said that Tillable collects data from leases and taxing bodies and creates a report that is available to landowners. It also obtains prior yield data, soil test results, and proof of fertilizing that is available to the grower. A grower creates a profile that contains his farming practices, references, and banking references.

    “Typically, the leases are for one year so there is flexibility for the landowner and the grower,” said Kull. “At times, rent rates need to be raised or decreased. The important question to ask yourself is, ‘does my farm meet my expectations?’ Tillable is designed to give you the answer.”