Growing ideas: AirBnB for farm equipment

FarmBit brings sharing economy to agriculture

Farm equipment is expensive. Especially considering it stands idle for most of the year. Now FarmBit lets Australian farmers rent equipment from each other. And if the app’s inventors have anything to do with it, that’s just the beginning.

Wessel van Keulen got the idea for FarmBit four years ago when he wanted to build a dam on the farm he’d bought in Australia. “I needed machines and someone who could do the job for me, but I didn’t know anyone in the area yet,” he says. “I finally found someone with a bulldozer though a neighbor. I realized how convenient it would be if you could rent machinery from another famer, or earn money from your own equipment: like AirBnB for agricultural machinery.”

“Owners are always sure of being paid”

- Wessel van Keulen, CEO of FarmBit

Winning idea

Van Keulen was working at Rabobank at the time and developed the FarmBit idea with several colleagues. The team decided to pitch it during one of the bank’s so-called Moonshot events. This internal accelerator program, which runs in 10 countries, offers employees with an innovative idea the opportunity to develop their business model. The FarmBit team won in June 2017.

FarmBit launched just half a year later, in January 2018. About 145 farmers have joined so far and the first transactions have taken place. Van Keulen: “The farmers’ know-how about machinery was crucial to the development of the app. People hired machines from each other before, but always on the basis of a gentleman's agreement, with no insurance in the event of damage or an accident. We’re now at an advanced stage of negotiations with insurer Achmea to arrange claim and liability policies for all machinery rented through FarmBit.

Wessel van Keulen, CEO of FarmBit

“Just like AirBnB, we work with social profiles: tenants and landlords can write reviews about each other and about their user experience. FarmBit also runs background checks so that owners are sure of being paid.” Owners stays in control of the rental process thanks to a calendar function that shows whether machines are available and at what rate. He or she can also indicate whether the machines are rented with or without an operator. The earnings model is comparable to AirBnB as well: a percentage of each transaction goes to FarmBit, which is now being offered as a service to clients by Rabobank Australia.

Next step: Uber for trucks

As a next step, Van Keulen wants to enter into a partnership with a company that works as a sort of Uber for the trucks used to transport the machines. Van Keulen: “Users can see which truck driver can transport the equipment for them, and we’ll arrange the insurance too. We are also looking at a GPS system so that owners can check whether a machine is being used according to the agreed conditions. That will make the service even more transparent.”

Van Keulen hopes to grow FarmBit into a community of more than 2,000 members by the end of the year. He sees several opportunities for adding value to the app, from buying artificial fertilizer collectively, to selling grain using blockchain technology. Van Keulen: “FarmBit should become a farmer’s automatic choice to help them with every aspect of their work.”