Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

Ag Innovation Event Participants and Judges
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Entrepreneurs Needed to Rise to the Challenge

The Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge is a national business competition that showcases U.S. startups developing innovative solutions that address challenges facing America’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Launched in 2015, The Challenge was the first national business competition of its kind focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs.

Now in their seventh year, the American Farm Bureau Federation in partnership with Farm Credit, are looking to identify the top entrepreneurs who are addressing both traditional challenges farmers face on their operation, such as access to labor, optimizing yield and reducing operating costs, to entrepreneurs who are addressing new challenges facing farmers and rural communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farm Bureau will award $145,000 in startup funds to ten businesses, culminating at a live pitch competition and networking event at the AFBF Annual Convention in January 2021 in San Diego, CA. The Farm Bureau Entrepreneurs of the Year will be awarded $50,000 in startup funds provided by sponsors Bayer Crop Science, Country Financial, Farm Bureau Bank, Farm Bureau Financial Services, Farm Credit and John Deere.

In light of the impacts Farm Bureau members are experiencing from COVID-19, solutions from entrepreneurs are needed more than ever to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
—  AFBF President Zippy Duvall


Farm Bureau will award $145,000 to ten businesses:

  • $50,000 will be awarded to the 2021 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year
  • $20,000 will be awarded to the People’s Choice Award winner (chosen by public vote)
  • $15,000 will be awarded to two finalist teams
  • $7,500 will be awarded to six semi-finalist teams


Farm Bureau is accepting applications through midnight Eastern Daylight Time on August 14, 2020. Farm Bureau and the Farm Credit Rural Investment and Innovation Workgroup will select ten startup businesses to compete at the AFBF Annual Convention in January 2021 as Semi-Finalists. These ten businesses will be announced on October 5th and awarded $7,500 each.

Farm Bureau has partnered with Cornell University’s Center for Regional and Economic Advancement to provide pitch training and mentorship for the ten semi-finalist businesses with faculty from Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Ten semi-finalist businesses will compete in two rounds of competition at the 2021 AFBF Annual Convention. Farm Bureau will cover transportation expenses and hotel accommodations for two members of each semi-finalist team to attend and compete in San Diego.  In the first round, teams will have five minutes to pitch their business to a panel of industry judges in front of an audience of Farm Bureau and industry leaders, and venture capital representatives from USDA Rural Business Investment Companies. In this round, teams can use a presentation to support their pitch and will receive feedback from the judges.

Four finalist teams will advance to compete on stage in the final, live-streamed competitive event in front of industry representatives, investors and Farm Bureau members. Each team will have three minutes to pitch their business to a panel of industry judges.

The four finalist teams will compete to be the People’s Choice Award winner (by public vote) for a total of $20,000 and to be the 2021 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year to win a total of $50,000. The Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year and the People’s Choice Award winner will be announced at AFBF Annual Convention Closing General Session on January 11th, 2021.

While attending the AFBF Annual Convention, the ten teams will have the opportunity to promote their businesses and network with industry leaders, venture capitalists, Rural Business Investment Companies, ag incubator program leaders, entrepreneurs and university researchers.

AFBF’s Ag Innovation Challenge far exceeded my expectations and was one of the most valuable competitions I have ever been a part of.
—  Finalist and Maryland Farm Bureau member, Dawn Musil of Hivelend

Meet the 2020 Challenge Top Ten Entrepreneurs

   Credit: AFBF   

(L-R) Teams from HydroSide Systems, Innovative Agricultural Technologies, Nick Wijnberg (judge, Farm Credit Mid-America), Hivelend, Barney Debnam (judge, Microsoft), Rantizo and Dr. Ed Rister (judge, Texas A&M University)

2020 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year

Credit: AFBF   

HydroSide Systems LLC
Website | Facebook | Video pitch

In the months following The Challenge, HydroSide gained more steam than in the previous two years of the company’s existence! The relationships that HydroSide has developed as a direct result of The Challenge has helped to accelerate and further refine the “go to market” plans. HydroSide went from two small test farms for the pre-launch beta testing to building a relationship with one of the most prestigious collegiate irrigation programs in the U.S. for testing and study. They also went from a plan of cobbling together direct-to-user sales to making inroads with one of the largest agriculture equipment financiers in the U.S. and receiving a commitment from a large irrigation supply company in the Idaho region to carry their products once market proven.  

2020 People's Choice Award Winner

Credit: AFBF   

Innovative Agricultural Technologies, LLC
Website | Video pitch

The Ag Innovation Challenge provided Innovative Ag Technologies (IAT) the opportunity to shine light on the issues plaguing the pine straw industry and how their company is working to provide solutions. The impact of the Challenge on the business was substantial. By winning the People’s Choice Award, IAT was able to pursue a non-provisional patent on their machine, the Pine Bine, while also filing another provisional patent on a new machine currently in the developmental phase. The IAT team has been continuing to test and develop technology within the pine straw industry and are excited to have their first machine manufactured this year.


Credit: AFBF   

WebsiteTwitter | Instagram | Facebook | Video pitch

Hivelend has continued to grow now working with beekeepers and berry farmers in the Pacific Northwest, as well as partnering with WSU on a Research Project on beehive placement for effective pollination and fruit- setting in blueberries in Washington State- the largest blueberry producing state in the US, where they are seeing an increased need for beehives for effective pollination. The Hivelend team is thankful to have met farmers through the Ag Innovation Challenge that they are now working on pollination contracts with and have been building partnerships with other players in the beekeeping technology space- one of which we were introduced to through the Ag Innovation Challenge.

Credit: AFBF   

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Video pitch

Rantizo has received approvals and certification to legally drone spray in 15 states with projections to reach 25 states by the end of 2020. More than a dozen Rantizo Application Services Contractors have been identified throughout the country ramping up application services to farmers for the 2020 planting season. In light of COVID-19 response, Rantizo has recently launched sanitization services targeting stadiums, sports arenas, warehouses, public parks, and more settings in response to the COVID pandemic.


Website | Facebook | Video pitch

Directly following The Challenge, AgButler interviewed and was awarded a grant with the Missouri Agriculture and Small Business Development Authority. Ag Butler competed in the Ag Tech Innovation Competition by FCS of America at the Iowa Power Farming Show in Des Moines and won People’s Choice. They produced a Job Board Pilot program with Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Cattlemen’s Association to provide an opportunity for students and producers to connect during springtime farm and ranch work season, with special consideration for COVID-19 impacts. AgButler plans to beta test the platform by fall 2020.

Green State Biochar
Website | Video pitch

Green State Biochar is participating in the Vermont Phosphorus Innovation Challenge with plans to install two filters on a local dairy farm early June. These are field trials with biochar and sand running parallel to one another. Green State Biochar is working with Cornell University labs to test the biochar for phosphorous and liquid samples for capture rates. Once proven to be successful, the biochar filter will be part of the Best Management Practices program. In addition to field trials, Green State Biochar is working on packaging for their product to be sold directly to consumers.

Website | Twitter | InstagramFacebook | Video pitch

Since the Farm Bureau's Innovation Challenge, Re-Nuble had some time to meet with smaller, regional baby organic produce field growers. To their surprise, these farms demonstrated another use case for the technology which has an initial market focused on soilless farms throughout the country. The Re-Nuble team always knew that soil farms were challenged by the same things as soilless farms with using organic fertilizers such as costs, ease of use, nitrate availability, and manufacturing grade but never realized that both groups were more similar than they realized. Even though they don't plan to immediately commercialize the technology for soil use, the ease of having these conversations would have been more difficult had Re-Nuble not been invited to participate and convene at the Farm Bureau's Annual Convention.


Since competing in The Challenge, SwineSentinel was awarded the top prize of $20,000 at the Ag Tech Innovation Challenge in Des Moines at the Iowa Power Farming Show. The team has made tremendous progress on the technology with expanded pilot testing partnering with Iowa swine producers. The Challenge served as SwineSentinel’s informal launch to the market.

The Bene Baby Company, Inc.
Website | Video pitch

The Bêne Baby Company has hired a public relations firm to assist with increased media coverage, brand awareness and education of physicians and expectant mothers. The Challenge has afforded The Bêne Baby Company the opportunity to invest in robust marketing campaigns and digital media efforts. The Wisconsin-based company is planning a relaunch in August 2020.

Tractor Zoom
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Video pitch

Tractor Zoom has significantly grown revenues and expanded into new end markets following participation in the Ag Innovation Challenge. The online-based equipment auction company has added employees and is advertising more than 50% of all farm equipment sold at auction in the U.S.  

2019 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year


FarmlandFinder is working to digitize the farmland transaction process. Seeing that they serve farmers & landowners, AFBF’s Ag Innovation Challenge provided the opportunity to connect with so many world-class producers and get boots on the ground feedback about the product. Since receiving this award, FarmlandFinder has closed a $3M Seed round of funding lead by Cultivian Sandbox, with participation from some top-notch agricultural organizations, such as Iowa Farm Bureau's Rural Vitality Fund & Iowa Corn Growers Association. The growth of their business is accelerating faster than ever and the FarmlandFinder team is grateful for the assistance and connections that AFBF has provided along the way.

2018 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year


The American Farm Bureau Federation played a significant part in helping us along our entrepreneurial journey. The Challenge provided a platform to communicate SwineTech’s vision for the pork industry and provided credibility to the work. Since winning Entrepreneur of the Year Award, SwineTech has gone on to protect roughly 2 million pigs, graduated from the Pearse Lyons Accelerator in Dublin, and won awards from the Digital Animal Summit, Forbes, and many others. We were also able to expand our customer base to Canada and raised $5 million in venture funding prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now focused more than ever on supporting pork producers in their quest to provide safe pork for consumers all over the world.

Meet the 2020 Judges

   Credit: AFBF   

(L-R) Barney Debnam, Dr. Ed Rister, Nick Wijnberg

Finalist judges:

  • Barney Debnam- Microsoft, Global Agriculture Strategy Lead

  • Dr. Ed Rister- Texas A&M University, Department of Agricultural Economics

  • Nick Wijnberg- Farm Credit Mid-America, Vice President of Food & Agribusiness

   Credit: AFBF   

(L-R) Dave Dornbirer, Ben Fogle, Tom Schryver, Martha Smith

Semi-finalist judges:

  • Kyle Collins- John Deere, Business Development Manager
  • Martha Smith- Bayer Crop Science, Global Industry Affairs Lead
  • Andrew Rose- Farm Credit Mid-Atlantic, Director of Innovation, Strategy and Development
  • David Dornbirer- CoBank, Vice President- Public/Private Partnerships
  • Lawrence Page, PhD- Lewis & Clark Ventures, Principal
  • Ben Fogle- Midwest Growth Partners, Partner
  • Tom Schryver- Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, Executive Director
  • Jenn Smith- Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, Grow-NY Director


Aug. 14, 2020

Application Deadline

Oct. 5, 2020

Top Ten Semi-Finalists Announced

Dec. 2020

Semi-Finalist Pitch Training

Jan. 8-10, 2021

Top Ten Compete at AFBF Annual Convention in San Diego, CA

Jan. 11 2021

Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year & People's Choice Award Winners Announced

Watch the 2020 Challenge

Terms and Conditions

Entrepreneurs must be Farm Bureau members to qualify as a top ten semi-finalist. Applicants who are not Farm Bureau members can join a state Farm Bureau of their choice. Visit to learn about becoming a member.

Partnering with Farm Credit to Support Rural Entrepreneurship 

Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services, today and tomorrow. Our nationwide network of customer-owned financial institutions provides loans and related financial services to U.S. farmers and ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural homebuyers, agribusinesses and rural infrastructure providers.

Providing much-needed capital to Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs) and other rural entities, mentoring rural entrepreneurs and fostering innovation in rural America are other ways Farm Credit fulfills its mission to support vibrant rural communities. That is why Farm Credit is pleased to be the American Farm Bureau Federation’s premier partner on the Ag Innovation Challenge.

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