Dave Myers spent the past nine years working in ag retail, helping farmers become more efficient managing plant nutrition. One thing he noticed over the years was that the farmers he worked with were very good at managing the land from a nutrition and environmental standpoint, were getting incredible yields, and some of their practices were much more advanced than other farms, but his clients weren’t necessarily growing.
“These guys were doing such a good job, but you know as I was watching them and their business, I was asking myself why do these guys not grow, why are they not picking up more acres?” Myers said. “Because they are doing all the right things and they are doing things that would be very attractive to a landowner, if a landowner knew this was going on. Why are they not growing?”
Myers said it all boils down to the fact that they didn’t want to be ‘that guy that went out and knocked on doors and appeared too aggressive.’
That’s where Bird Dog comes in. Myers and his business partner, Daryl Starr, launched the company in May 2016 to connect the dots between tenants looking to grow more land and landowners trying to find someone to farm their ground.
As Myers points out, the landowner is changing. They often don’t live near their farm ground or don’t have the knowledge of the farm like their grandparents or parents did.
“As this older generation of landowners passes their land down to the next generation, you are getting more and more landowners that are further removed from the farm,” Myers said. “There’s really a disconnect between the knowledge of the landowner and the location of the landowner and the farmers who farm their land. How does a grower grow their operation when half of the landowners who are renting land do not even live in the same community they used to?”
Bird Dog aims to help growers get in front of those landowners they want to work with.
A farmer interested in growing their farm land first creates an account with Bird Dog and develops a campaign for those landowners they want to pursue, based on the crop they want to grow. A grower can put together more than one campaign, if they want to grow multiple types of crops.
Once a campaign is built, the grower then answers a series of questions to give Bird Dog an idea of his or her beliefs, practices, what he or she does well and excels at … basically the key information to get out in front of the landowners.
After this the grower identifies the landowner they want to work with based on the geography to target and the piece of land they want to go after.
Bird Dog then goes to work to get the farmer in front of the landowner. The landowner gets to see who that farmer is and, by the time the marketing process is done, he or she knows what kind of value that farmer can bring to the land.
If a landowner is looking for a grower, the process is quite similar with questions focusing on the landowner’s beliefs on soil quality, air and water management, farmer communication expectations, type of lease agreement, etc. Bird Dog also tries to gauge how much information the grower needs to provide to the landowner regularly.
“We want the farmer to be a source of leadership for that landowner and want to help give them the knowledge and information they need to work with that landowner,” Myers said.
Myers said landowners also like the anonymity and the process, especially if they have been working with the same tenant for a while and they want to have a business conversation without their current grower knowing about it.
The end goal for both parties? To connect a grower and a landowner that share the same beliefs about farming … essentially agribusiness Match.com.
“That was kind of my thought with this whole thing … to be able to match up the practices and the beliefs of the farmer with the beliefs of the landowner,” Myers said. “Too many times a farmer will pick up land and there is kind of a honeymoon period where nobody really knows what to do- because you don’t know where the landowner is coming from, you don’t know what the farmer wants to do- really a time where they are trying to figure out each other.”
Bird Dog aims to build business relationships right from the start.
Still in their infancy, the company already has clients in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, with interest from several parties in the Midwest. Myers expects to see more matches made this winter as lease agreements come up for renewal.
Once the match happens, it’s up to the landowner and the tenant to work together, get an attorney, and put together a lease agreement. Myers said the one thing Bird Dog is not … is a farm management company.
“We just want to make the connection. Farming is different compared to any other business,” Myers said. “We’re still not that far removed from the days when a farmer, what they farmed was what they owned, and we are not that many generations away from that. It’s still very challenging for a farmer to go out and pick up land to rent without getting that reputation.”