> Focus On Agriculture

Finding and Supporting Rural Entrepreneurs

Gary Matteson

SVP Beginning Farmer Programs and Outreach at the Farm Credit Council

photo credit: AFBF Photo, Shantell Reyes

Every kid who wants to see Santa knows to put out milk and cookies. But what is the draw if you want to find rural entrepreneurs, those inventors who are looking for ways to solve the problems facing rural communities and farmers?

It turns out the right enticement is the 2024 Ag Innovation Challenge. For 10 years the American Farm Bureau Federation has partnered with Farm Credit to hold a national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs launching food and agriculture businesses. The Challenge provides an opportunity for business owners across the United States to showcase their innovations in food and agriculture and compete for a total of $165,000 in startup funds that will be distributed across the top 10 food and agriculture startup businesses over the course of the competition.

Many reading this are farmers—rural entrepreneurs themselves—who understand the sense of mission that motivates continued service to communities and the responsibility of producing food and agricultural goods. The contestants in the Ag Innovation Challenge are also inspired by a sense of mission: solving problems that farmers face such as reducing operating costs and labor or increasing yield.

Entrepreneurs seek to change things for the better.

The Challenge offers cash prizes, but it’s not about personal compensation for the contestants. It’s about getting a cash award to invest in their business. Competitors want to share their knowledge and engage with the people they are seeking to help. Their motivation is bringing their ideas to life. Solving problems for rural communities and farmers is the driving force that focuses them on their vision and the reason they are working so hard.

Entrepreneurs seek to change things for the better, and they’re sure they can contribute. Ensuring that rural entrepreneurs have the tools they need to overcome barriers and grow their businesses is one way Farm Credit shows our commitment to supporting rural communities and agriculture, right here in rural America.

From a pool of national applicants, 10 startup businesses will be invited to compete as semi-finalists at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Convention, Jan. 19-24, 2024, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Each will receive $10,000. The semi-finalists will be selected by Farm Bureau and members of the Farm Credit Rural Investment and Innovation Workgroup, Farm Credit leaders who engage with Rural Business Investment Companies and rural entrepreneurs.

At the AFBF Convention, four expert judges will determine four businesses to advance and compete in a live competition for a total of $50,000 in start-up funds for the Ag Innovation Challenge winner, a total of $20,000 for the runner-up and an additional $5,000 for the People’s Choice Award-winning team, selected by popular vote.

You better watch out and give your inventor friends a shout. Something better than Santa’s coming to town! The closing date for applications for the 2024 Ag Innovation Challenge is May 12.