Jesse Vollmar grew up on a traditional row crop farm in Michigan… with a twist.
A 1993 decision by the family positioned the farm as an early pioneer, pivoting to 100% organic production. And while the pivot was bold, it was also extremely strategic, giving the farm access to new markets and economic opportunities while also focusing on sustainability.
This entrepreneurial move might have been an early influential event for Jesse, who would go on to jumpstart his own company, FarmLogs, nearly twenty years later.
And after nine years of building the farm management software business, the company was acquired in June by Bushel, where Jesse now serves as the VP of Farm Strategy.
Magnetic caught up with Jesse to hear all about his background, entrepreneurial experiences, and what he sees as the most interesting trends for the future of agriculture.
Tell us a bit about your background. Did you grow up in agriculture?
I grew up on a fifth-generation family farm located in the thumb of Michigan. It was a traditional row crop farm upbringing but yet some aspects were really unique and those experiences still shape my perspectives today.
In 1993, my father and uncle decided to move to 100% organic production. That was a very bold and entrepreneurial move. They saw the economic opportunities as well as making sustainable choices. I watched my dad and uncle figure out how to farm effectively having taken that risk, but also something interesting happened: There wasn’t enough processing available locally. Tapping into organic markets is different from traditional markets. This led to creating their own elevator business that could clean products and find distribution.
It was helpful to our family, but also the neighboring farmers started asking if they could piggyback onto what our family was doing. So not only was I exposed to the traditional farm-kid activities of rock picking and running the tractor, but I was also exposed to the grain elevator business through that experience.
What spurred you to start FarmLogs?
Brad (Koch – co-founder of FarmLogs) and I had been working in the tech space on the cutting edge of building software for other industries. When I would come home and visit the family farm and talk with neighbors, I’d look at their technology. You could see the visible frustration with what was available – It wasn’t for lack of trying – they had clunky experiences in what they were using.
As a technologist, I wanted the delightful experiences we were developing for other industries – it felt important to me that farmers had access to those same technologies. We wanted to take our unique skill set and understanding of the ag industry and make a really positive impact on the world.
What does your role all entail at Bushel today?
My primary responsibility is the integration of FarmLogs into the broader Bushel platform. Unlocking new value for our customers by putting the two together. I would also add that having joined the leadership team here, I really want to bring my experiences of running FarmLogs, to help grow leaders and become better at operating the business. How can I help others level up skillsets and build cohesion and clarity around delivering on our vision.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in the 5 months you’ve been with Bushel so far?
Seeing the opportunity around standardizing data in agriculture. We see the pain points of this from FarmLogs as we try to integrate with systems and businesses that label various data fields just slightly differently.
It’s something that we recognized early on at FarmLogs, but to be behind a brand now that extends further into the supply chain and can rally strong industry voices together will be powerful.
What’s one interesting trend (outside of Bushel’s capabilities/value proposition) that you’re keeping your eye on in Agtech?
Regenerative farming – and not just in the buzzword kind of way. I’m not that interested in carbon markets but specifically how regenerative practices can help us build healthier, more resilient soil for our plants to grow in. There are awesome grassroots things that are percolating.
If you weren’t working in agriculture today, what do you think you’d be doing?
I’m pretty focused on my work here at Bushel right now, but in general, I like thinking of ways to make the world better with technology.
What’s the biggest entrepreneurial lesson you took away from your 9 years of starting and leading FarmLogs?
I learned an enormous amount about organizational health. How important it is to build cohesive leadership and need to provide clarity to an organization. I didn’t know going in but now that I’ve done it – I feel really it’s a lot more about building a great company and organization – not just a product.
Who are your mentors in the industry and why?
Neil Clemmons was a really great independent board member at FarmLogs who I still connect with today. He is someone who is both a landowner and fairly active as a technology executive with experiences at big tech businesses like Apple.
There’s also a circle of friends I have that have served as coaches for each other. These are people who I met when I lived in Silicon Valley for a brief time and stayed in touch with. And of course, I like to pick my dad’s brain as an innovative farmer and ag entrepreneur.
What do you like to do for fun and free time?
Right now I’m building a small-scale regenerative market garden farm which takes a lot of time and effort. It’s not at all to make money, but really exploring the science and putting the science to the test and first-hand knowledge of applying the practices. The goal is to produce better food as a result. We’re doing things like non-traditional soil tests that tell us so much more than just NPK like how many microbes are present and the diversity of microbes.
Also, traveling. I didn’t travel while I was building FarmLogs but now I’m in a position that’s a little less intense. We’ve started backpacking here and there, I spent my honeymoon in Spain and this fall we’re looking at heading to Columbia in January.
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