Farmers Business Network officials say the organization's membership has surged since it removed membership fees on Sept. 16, rising from 14,000 to roughly 15,500 members a week later. But members still will need to contribute data to access certain features.

"We decided we could serve more farms, we could help more farms, we could give more farms the savings, by changing the membership model. And the response has been tremendous," Charles Baron, FBN chief innovation officer and co-founder, said during a online presentation to agricultural news media on Sept. 24.

Farmer’s Business Network, which bills itself as a direct-to-farm ag tech platform and farmer network that seeks to help farmers reduce the cost of production and maximize the value of their crops, dropped its $700 annual subscription. FBN officials said they wanted to help producers avoid an expense during difficult economic times and that they see free membership as a way of investing in their customers.

Successfully raising $250 million in a new round of venture capital funding, which the company announced in August, also was a factor in dropping the membership fees, FBN said.

Existing members will be credited for the unused portion of their paid membership, which can be used in the online FBN Direct Store or toward a Market Advisory PRO subscription, according to FBN.

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FBN remains what it calls “a contributory, farmer-driven platform.” Though data contribution isn't necessary to be a member, it is required to access some features such as performance analytics.

All data contributed remains confidential, Baron stressed.

"We're very committed to data privacy and transparency," he said.

Baron said people often ask him what FBN is.

"I always say FBN is a network, a network of farms, and our business is making farms more profitable … We look to save our customers money."

FBN utilizes data in "the network effect," Baron said. "As more farms use FBN, join FBN, it gets more useful to all the other farms."

Among the services offered by FBN: a "price-transparency" marketplace for chemical and seed inputs, a seed finder that accesses large-scale yield and price information on more than 1,400 seed varieties; free access to satellite imagery, a networking function and insurance, financing and brokering options.

In the next few weeks and months, FBN will be announcing new initiatives involving local communities and new products, Baron said.

Established in 2014, FBN has expanded into Canada and Australia. Farmers in those countries, as well as in the United States, can join for free. The 14,000 members, before the subscription fee was lifted, represented about a total of about 45 million acres, the company said.

The 15,550 membership total membership counted only active subscribers and reflected only the number of member farms, not the number of users on those farms, Baron said.

FBN has offices in San Carlos, Calif.; Chicago; Sioux Falls S.D.; High River, Alberta, and Perth, Australia.

To sign up for free membership: https://www.fbn.com.