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 Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, John Deere, Farm Bureau Bank, Farm Bureau Financial Services, and FMC Corporation.
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
Aug. 14, 2020
Oct. 5, 2020
Top Ten Semi-Finalists Announced
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
Ten startup businesses were selected by Farm Bureau and the Farm Credit Rural Investment and Innovation Workgroup who will compete at the AFBF Annual Convention in January 2021 as Semi-Finalists. These ten businesses were announced on October 5th and awarded $7,500 each.
The 10 semi-finalist teams will compete at the AFBF Convention on Friday, Jan. 8, to advance to the final round where the four finalist teams will receive an additional $7,500 for a total of $15,000. The final four teams will compete live in front of Farm Bureau members, investors and industry representatives on Tuesday, Jan. 12, to win:
- Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year, for a total of $50,000
- People’s Choice Award, for a total of $20,000
The top 10 semi-finalist teams will participate in pitch training and mentorship from Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business faculty, and network with representatives from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Business Investment Companies.
Meet the 2021 Challenge Top Ten Entrepreneurs
AgriHoodBaltimore is a thriving Marketplace, Community Shared Agriculture and Urban Farmer Training Resource Institute with a focus on developing the next generation of Junior Urban Farmers.
Agro Empresas Black Belt is a company that standardizes the methods and processes necessary for hydroponic production. The business uses the integration of Lean Six Sigma methodology in the development of agricultural production processes in abandoned poultry facilities among others. It identifies facilities and provides supporting tools in continuous research and developments.
Arbré Technologies, Inc. is a Wisconsin-based startup that uses state-of-the-art software and innovative RFID hardware to help horticultural businesses efficiently manage inventory — improving workflows, eliminating waste, reducing time, decreasing costs, and improving margins.
PumpTrakr is a platform that manages irrigation well pump locations, activity, fuel levels, maintenance concerns, and more, all in one convenient app. PumpTrakr lets you view your entire irrigation system at one time, reducing stress, mistakes, and omissions in your daily routine. PumpTrakr allows for easy record-keeping that saves time and money, and provides clear communication and decision-making knowledge between yourself and other pump managers.
Butter Meat Co. is a beef supply chain startup based in Western New York working to improve the value proposition of retired dairy cows as beef for farmers and consumers. Their mission is to build a dairy beef brand that increases the farm gate value and offers customers differentiated flavorful beef eco-consciously.
Harvust is a software platform to help farms with their most valuable resource: their people. From the moment a new employee walks in the door to the moment they are doing productive work, Harvust is making some of the most important HR tasks on a farm like hiring, training, and communication simple, fast, and organized.
Insulights are an affordable, agricultural electric fence insulator that helps livestock and orchard managers protect and manage their electric fences. Insulights are the only blue insulator equipped with a flashing LED light that warns farmers and ranchers of their damaged electric fence.
Parasanti is an AI/ML company dedicated to placing advanced analytics into the hands of our nation's farmers and ranchers. Parasanti is a veteran and farmer-led company that has first-hand knowledge of the difficulties in capturing upstream data from the farm and transforming it into critical insights that drive decisions for the farmer in areas with limited bandwidth connection. Parasanti offers a simple, lightweight, and affordable IoT driven plug and play solution for the farmer that delivers hyper-localized insights into the health of the farm as well as leverages machine learning to deliver predictive models of future yields, weather, and even relevant commodity pricing.
Row Shaver Systems, LLC was started to combat the ever increasing problem of herbicide resistant weeds. The first part of the system, the Row Shaver, is a patent pending agricultural implement that cleans weeds from between the rows of any row crop. It has an aft mounted hooded sprayer/top dress attachment that allows for the option of spraying herbicides/fertilizer on grasses and small weeds with chemicals that could normally be harmful to the growing crop.
TerraClear improves farm productivity by automating the clearance of hazardous rocks from farm fields. TerraClear is developing an end-to-end system for field rock removal that reduces the labor requirement of an unpopular, but important farm activity - picking rock.
Meet the 2020 Challenge Top Ten Entrepreneurs
(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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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
(L-R) Barney Debnam, Dr. Ed Rister, Nick Wijnberg
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
(L-R) Dave Dornbirer, Ben Fogle, Tom Schryver, Martha Smith
- 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
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 fb.org/join 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.
For more information, visit www.FarmCredit.com.
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