Sometimes an idea comes along that seems so obvious it’s hard to imagine why it hasn’t been thought of before. Farmbucks, an online tool to help western Canadian farmers get the best price for the grain they sell, falls into that category.
Why it matters: Invented by a farmer for farmers, Farmbucks is a subscription-based, grain and oilseed price discovery service. Available as both an app and a website, Farmbucks collates and compares pricing from buyers across the Prairies in real time, providing a one-stop information source for producers looking to sell their grain.
“As a farmer myself, I felt constantly bombarded by pricing information through websites, apps, emails and text messages. I found I’d either skim through it really quick or ignore it outright, and it was easy to forget what I saw yesterday,” says Lynn Dargis, a grain farmer located near St. Vincent, Alta., and the creator of Farmbucks.
Invented by an Alberta farmer for Prairie farmers, Farmbucks collates and compares pricing from buyers across Western Canada in real time. Its inventor says it takes about a minute to get a picture of what the market is doing rather than hours to search out and sort through bids.
“And then, when I wanted to sell, I could spend hours and hours scouring the web and I still didn’t know if I had the information I needed to make a good decision. Often it’s hard to even know a (buyer’s) special when you see it because you get so inundated with information that it’s lost in all the clutter.”
What Dargis wanted was a way to easily compare what grain buyers were offering in her area, but that didn’t exist. With the calm practicality of a farmer, “we built it,” she says.
Farmbucks shows cash and deferred prices for all key crops in the Prairie provinces. Featuring pricing from more than 70 per cent of all Canadian Prairie grain buyers, Farmbucks is the largest grain price tracking database in Canada, according to Dargis.
The platform is capable of sorting about 100,000 bids per hour, and Dargis expects that number to continue to grow as more buyers see the value the tool offers. Dargis says while Farmbucks may have been built to help farmers, there are numerous benefits for buyers, including being able to reach a much broader audience.
“Any Joe Blow who didn’t watch a buyer’s website or wasn’t subscribed to the automatic emails now has eyes on their prices,” she says.
How it works
According to Dargis, the Farmbucks platform is pretty straightforward and easy to use. A farmer simply selects a geographic location and search radius, specifies grain types and clicks the search button. The results provide a localized snapshot of actual bids in real time, with delivery options extended out 12 months.
“It literally takes one minute to get a snapshot of what the market is doing, rather than the hours it would otherwise take to search out and sort through all those bids,” says Dargis. “I use it all the time. It saves me a lot of headaches and keeps me way more engaged in marketing.”
Dargis says in addition to the basic pricing provided directly from buyers, an expanding network of producers posts harder-to-find pricing information like time-limited specials.
“Farmbucks can offer thousands of dollars of return,” she says. “For my farm business, the return on investment of access to this kind of information is a no-brainer.”
Dargis came up with the Farmbucks concept in 2017. She says getting it off the ground involved many hours of creating and tweaking the program with computer programmers as well as hundreds of meetings with grain buyers, elevator companies and grain company executives to get them on board with the idea.
“It’s about relationships. Some buyers were receptive from the get-go. Some needed some convincing. It’s taken time but we’ve been able to gain that trust. We’re open and flexible and willing to work with buyers. And my motive is pretty pure — I’m a farmer building something for farmers,” says Dargis.
Relationships are a key aspect of grain buying and Dargis is quick to point out that Farmbucks isn’t intended to replace the personal connection and communication between buyer and seller.
“We’re kind of like a dating platform — we provide the information from the buyer and, if the farmer finds something they like, they can move forward,” she says. “We’re not eliminating the conversation between buyer and seller. We’re just making the conversation worth having.”
Farmbucks, which is available for a free, 30-day trial, costs $120 for a yearly subscription. Dargis says her goal is to keep the service affordable and of value to producers.
Dargis maintains the pandemic has worked in her favour, as buyers who might not have wanted to shift to an online platform have, by necessity, had to turn to digital technologies.
She finds farmers, on the other hand, eager to give Farmbucks a try.
“Comparing prices isn’t anything new — farmers have been doing that on their own forever,” says Dargis. “Farmbucks just allows an easier and quicker view of what’s happening for prices at any given time.”
Dargis says she’s excited to be at the forefront of what she considers a very necessary industry change.
“I hear it from people looking in from the outside all the time. They say, ‘What? Something like this didn’t exist? What the heck were farmers doing before?” she says. “(The) technology is here … and it’s available to help us. It’s time we modernize.”