Local agribusiness to get fighting chance in age of Amazon
By ANDREW MCGINN
It started innocently enough with books and music.
Then it grew to include toys, sneakers, underwear, tires, mattresses.
So why not Roundup Ready corn?
The systematic destruction of brick and mortar retail by the internet — namely, Amazon — will soon be spreading to agribusiness, predicts a Jefferson native who hopes to give local ag retailers a fighting chance in the online marketplace.
If he succeeds, it could have game-changing ramifications on par with the age-old question, “If you could have killed Adolf Hitler in 1925, would you?”
How about Jeff Bezos in 1993?
On Dec. 1, Tyler Horbach will launch The FarmElement (thefarmelement.com) to connect farmers shopping online with local agribusinesses selling the products and services they’re looking to buy.
“This is coming,” Horbach, 25, said recently, “whether it’s a kid from Jefferson, or a kid from California, or a kid from China.”
That kid from Jefferson — a 2010 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School — has something a kid from Silicon Valley doesn’t: loyalty to his roots.
Horbach’s main competitor, a startup based in San Carlos, Calif., has $40 million in venture capital funding behind it from Google.
“That business is going outside the local businesses,” Horbach explained, “just like Amazon is going outside the businesses on the Square.
“This is a different business model. Farmers can still do their business online, but it keeps the business local.”
The concept is simple enough.
Say a farmer wants to buy seed, fertilizer or other inputs, or is in need of soil sampling or custom farming.
They enter their information free of charge on The FarmElement and then participating ag retailers bid for their business within one business day.
All transactions take place outside of The FarmElement.
“I generate the opportunities for the farmer to get the best deal,” Horbach said, “and our local agribusinesses get to participate in the growing online market.”
Farmers will never pay a dime to use the site. Horbach’s income comes from the agribusinesses.
The idea came to him where most good ideas are born — sitting in a deer stand.
A 2014 graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in business management, Horbach currently works in the insurance industry in Des Moines. His dad, Lee Horbach, is Jefferson’s longtime State Farm agent.
Tyler Horbach sees himself one day moving back to Jefferson. The ag industry is something he always wanted to be part of, he said.
But soon, area farms will almost exclusively be under the management of a generation that will think nothing of checking Facebook, getting on Snapchat and then buying seed online, all in about 20 minutes while laying in bed on a Sunday night.
Those next-gen farmers fresh from ISU are coming home, and “they bring with them the tech savviness,” Horbach said.
Amazon’s takeover of the world is well known.
“Where does it stop?” Horbach asked, adding that he can see Amazon delving into real estate.
He believes farmers more than anyone would like to keep their business local, but farmers in this day and age also have a bottom line to protect.
“This is perfect timing,” he said. “If they can get quality product to produce quality yields, it’s going to help themselves and it’s going to help local agribusinesses.”
As of Friday, according to Horbach, four input businesses and five custom farmers had signed on to participate.
He said it’s a balancing act to ensure the process doesn’t turn into a price war between businesses. He still believes it’s a win-win for everyone — farmers get the best deal and a local agribusiness gets new business.
The FarmElement will initially launch just in Greene County before Horbach spreads the concept to the surrounding counties.
“I’ve been told,” he said, “I’m on the cusp of something very large.”