May 19, 2015 / 3:38 PM / 2 years ago

Google Ventures leads $15 million deal in Farmers Business Network

(Reuters) - Google Inc and two venture capitalist firms are investing $15 million in a U.S. tech company that helps farmers maximize their crops based on data gathered by agricultural equipment and shared between growers.

A woman walks past a logo of Google at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2015 in Beijing, China, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

Google Ventures, the technology company’s venture capital unit, is leading the fundraising for farm data startup Farmers Business Network, FBN announced on Tuesday.

Venture capitalists DBL Investors and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also participated in the round, which will enable FBN to expand its business beyond the 17 states and 16 crops it currently covers, the company said.

Founded a year ago, FBN plans to help farmers make better decisions about crops by analyzing weather and soil information, as well as other data gathered by sensor-laden farm equipment. It can then offer recommendations on inputs such as seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

“We offer real-world, Consumer Reports-like data. We can show farmers how seeds actually performed on farms, not how they performed in university trials or highly controlled seed company trials,” Charles Baron, co-founder and vice president of products at FBN, said in a telephone interview.

The Silicon Valley-based company is not currently creating planting prescriptions for farmers, but Baron said that could happen in the future.

Big agriculture companies such as Monsanto Co and Deere & Co have been investing heavily in data analysis products and precision agriculture software, as well as tools that help farmers grow crops more efficiently.

Investors have also been pouring money into agriculture technology startups, with $2.36 billion raised across 264 financing deals in 2014, according to an annual report by AgFunder.com.

The investments come as farming profitability is projected to fall to the lowest since 2007, and as U.S. farmers cut back on inputs such as machinery and fertilizer to save money.

In 2011, Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures invested $42 million in WeatherBill, which later became The Climate Corporation. That company was acquired by Monsanto in 2013 for more than $1 billion.

Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago. Editing by Andre Grenon

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