New ag logistics center brings Amazon-esque delivery service

Dominik Dausch
Farm Forum
FBN warehouse associate Jared Coit uses a forklift to move a chemical container to a nearby loading bay for delivery.

LARCHWOOD, IOWA — When you put the words "agriculture" and "fulfillment center" together, you might picture an Amazon-style warehouse filled with ag-related goods.

That's Farmer Business Network, an ag-focused, e-commerce platform based out of San Francisco, and its delivery service, in a nutshell. After all, FBN's logistic head is Jack Cox, formerly of Amazon. FBN has an office in Sioux Falls and serves more than 43,000 members within its network.

The company opened its newest logistics center in Larchwood, Iowa, on Aug. 25, expanding its ag delivery services to a 200-to-250-mile radius around the hub. That means more than 11,000 crop and livestock farmers within FBN's network from Wall to the corner where South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa meet and all across Iowa will be able to order critical farm supplies with a one-or-two day delivery promise.

But if you ask Lynn Bailey, general manager of the Iowa facility, about whether the Amazon comparison fits, he'll put it plainly: "I think we're better than Amazon, honestly, but I appreciate the compliment."

Farm Business Network's Larchwood Logistics Center operations manager Brian Van Heerde (left) and general manager Lynn Bailey (right) pose for a photo in front of FBN mission statements Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022. The facility, which held its grand opening a week prior, is one of FBN's five major fulfillment centers for daily agricultural deliveries.

From facility to field

Any modern e-commerce company worth its salt banks on its ability to make quick turnarounds on its deliveries. Bailey said FBN's network – comprised of 32 fulfillment centers around the U.S. and three in Canada – is unique in its ability to deliver agriculture supplies, which are often bulk orders of a certain product, within a matter of days.

"We are able to deliver them within two days – typically, next day – or they can come here and pick them up directly," Bailey said.

FBN's 90,000-square-foot Larchwood facility is one of its five primary fulfillment centers in the U.S. In addition to making deliveries across the Midwest, it also coordinates its services with two small logistics hubs in West Fargo and Minot, N.D.

The northwest Iowa facility is flanked by two other buildings that are not currently owned by FBN, Bailey said. He said the site was originally used for animal vaccine research by Grand Labs in the late 1970s. Iowa-based KIWA Radio reported in November 2018 it has "a history of trading hands between various pharmaceutical and animal health research companies."

We had "a need to have one in this area right near Sioux Falls and this region. This site was available, had been sitting empty, so it was kind of an easy one to kind of come in," Bailey said. "Well, I wouldn't say easy, but it was available and in the rural area where we could come in and set up shop, so that's kind of awesome."

A banner reading "Welcome to Glypholand" and "Better than the Corn Palace" hangs near lines of stacked containers full of glyphosates, a herbicide used by farmers. FBN operations manager Brian Van Heerde said the wife of one of his coworkers made the banner to celebrate the center's grand opening.

The facility stores input goods for both crop farmers — including fungicides, herbicides and pesticides — as well as biostimulants and animal vaccines for livestock ranchers. 

Bailey said when an FBN member buys something from the online store, a fulfillment order is sent to the closest facility. A worker then scans a barcode above the product and stages it to be picked up by a carrier.

"Then, typically, our transportation management system will plan the mode of transportation, and that's either going to go on our own fleet, it's going to go on a third-party carrier or, if it's a small parcel, we'll use FedEx," he said.

From there, the order is delivered directly to the farm.

Bailey clarified the service is only available for FBN members, but there is no fee for creating an account to purchase items. The platform dropped a $700 annual membership fee on Sept. 16, 2020, according to AgWeek.

A new option for farmers

FBN operations manager Brian Van Heerde said this will be game-changer for farmers who need to source farm supplies as the season progresses instead of having to cut their losses when they don't have enough on hand.

"It's huge, especially once they're getting a little closer to the end of their planting or their spraying seasons, (if) they don't order quite enough to finish up a field," Van Heerde said. "Getting that next-day last case or last tote is big."

A series of barcodes hang above crates containing various farming supplies.

Van Heerde is from a farm family. He shares the perspective that farmers operate within thin financial margins and under many variables. The weather often determines a farmer's priorities, he said, which means they often have a narrow margin for error.

"When it's time to spray, it's time to spray. You don't have a lot of time or even the option to wait," Van Heerde said. "To be able to pass on savings, to reward that hard work and to feed the world, I'm very proud of what this company's doing."

Dominik Dausch is the agriculture and environment reporter for the Argus Leader and editor of Farm Forum.