Photo by fred tromp on Unsplash.

Tillable, a farmland rental management company, raised an $8.25 million Series A funding round led by First Round Capital and The Production Board (hat tip to Axios).

The Chicago-based startup has an online marketplace which helps landowners and farmers settle on fair land rental prices. Through Tillable, farmers can input bids on pieces of land, and landowners can manage said bids, vet potential renters, and get insight into how their land is being used post-rental (yields, fertilizer usage, etc). The Tillable website also takes care of administrative rental tasks, like leases and monthly payments.

Basically, it’s Zillow for cropland.

It seems clear what landowners get out of a tool like Tillable — more visibility, efficient rental management, access to more land bids — but I was initially skeptical about why farmers would like the system. After all, more farmers knowing about a chunk of cropland = more bids = higher rental prices.

However, unlike eBay, the highest bid doesn’t always win on Tillable. When farmers apply for a piece of land they also submit information on their farming practices and experience. So if a landowner, say, doesn’t want pesticides used on its land, it might favor an organic farmer. Owners can also make residency rules, like designating their land “no till.” (As far as I can tell, Tillable doesn’t provide a monitoring service, so landowners have to assume that farmers are being honest with their reported yields and practices.)

Tillable could also help open up the agricultural industry and make it accessible for new farmers. According to the FAO, the average age of farmers in the U.S. is 60 years old. If we want to keep, you know, having food, we need a new generation to take over. However, there are surprisingly few resources for incoming farmers, especially those who don’t have parents or grandparents’ farms to take over.

Tillable plans to use its new funding to expand sales, marketing, and engineering operations to attract more landowners and farmers before the 2020 growing season.

Agriculture is getting a major tech makeover, with players developing everything from autonomous tractors to “bee drones” — and now, farmland rental marketplaces — to help make the notoriously difficult profession a little bit easier.

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