In early February Skip Klinefelter received a letter in the mail that at first he was puzzled by and then angered by. Klinefelter explains that the letter was from Tillable, an agtech startup, offering him a 1-year or 3-year rental rate on central Illinois farmland he’s listed as president of the owning corporation. The catch is that not only is he the president of the corporation for the family-owned land, he’s also the farmer operator.
“The first question I had was ‘Who is Tillable,’” Klinefelter says. “And the second question I had was ‘Why is this rental rate higher than breakeven and $80 an acre higher than a friend with more productive land?”
About 10 days later, Klinefelter sent a tweet asking if any of his followers knew any details about the startup company sending the unsolicited lease offers.
The tweet got traction with 40 comments, 28 retweets, and 175 likes. Then a series of other tweets, including pictures of other Tillable marketing letters started new threads of discussion and assumptions about Tillable.
Jumping to conclusions
“I did not mean to light a match in a gas house,” Klinefelter says.
In October 2019, Tillable and Climate Corporation announced a partnership where FieldView users could share on-farm data with landowners via a direct data connectivity partnership. CEO of Tillable, Corbett Kull had previously sold an agtech startup, 640 Labs, to Climate in 2014 and worked on the FieldView product.
The news of the developing API and the overlap in personnel connections helped shape an assumption spread on social media that the marketing letters sent this winter were informed with Climate FieldView Data.
About 36 hours after Klinefelter’s tweet was sent, Climate announced it had terminated its partnership with Tillable.
A Climate Corporation spokesperson said, “For the Tillable agreement specifically, our customers voiced concerns loud and clear, and we listened.”
“A minor inconvenience”
Mike Stern, CEO of Climate Corporation said in a statement, “Customers have full control over who they share their data with, including third-party FieldView platform partners. No data sharing has been enabled with Tillable. We have no investment interests in Tillable or any of our platform partners.”
The statement aimed to clear up three misconceptions from the dust-up on Twitter and other discussion boards.
- Farmers directly and individually choose who they share Climate FieldView data with from the dozens of API partners
- The API with Tillable was never put in place, and the startup never received any farmer data from FieldView
- There were no direct business ties between the two companies other than the data partnership that was forming
Tillable’s Kull came on AgriTalk on Feb. 18 to explain Tillable’s mission and respond to the previous week’s news.
He said the marketing letters sent this winter with the rental offers were informed by public data sources such as USDA, university surveys, and soil surveys. He also said Tillable never received data from Climate FieldView.
In an extended “AgriTalk Extra” Kull referred to the termination of the Climate data agreement as “a minor inconvenience.”
Kull said Tillable has the responsibility to share on-farm data with landowners, so moving forward they will develop additional ways they keep landowners up to date with crop, fertility and land value data.
Takeaways for farmers
Terry Griffin from Kansas State says this episode highlights the concerns farmers have over sharing data and specifically, what agreeing to a company’s terms of service really means.
“Here’s what I remind farmers of, it’s that they shouldn’t succumb to fear of missing out or FOMO in all the ways they can share data today,” Griffin says. “Don’t be in a hurry because the value of your farm data is greater than what we see at the surface.”
And when Klinefelter reflects on the chain reaction from his tweet on Thursday, he’s viewing it from a couple of different lenses. In addition to being a farmer, he’s the founder of Linco Precision, which sells and services a variety of precision ag equipment including AgLeader, Trimble, Precision Planting and FieldView.
He says he’s not convinced that Climate and Tillable “are in bed together” but he shares the sentiment many farmers have since expressed that this seems to be an “intrusion attempting to form a wedge between the landlord-tenant relationship for the benefit of Tillable.”
While Klinefelter doesn’t see the trend of increasing farm data slowing down, as a farmer and a precision ag dealer, he thinks data sharing consent is paramount.