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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 eighth 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.

Farm Bureau will award $165,000 in startup funds to ten businesses, culminating at a live pitch competition and networking event at the AFBF Convention in January 2022 in Atlanta, GA. The Ag Innovation Challenge Winner will be awarded $50,000 in startup funds provided by sponsors Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, John DeereFarm Bureau Bank and Microsoft.

The future of agriculture will rely on innovative solutions to the challenges we face. The Ag Innovation Challenge helps entrepreneurs grow their ideas into products that support farmers and ranchers in their mission to provide the food, fuel and fiber we all rely on.
—  AFBF President Zippy Duvall


Farm Bureau will award $165,000 to ten businesses:

  • $50,000 will be awarded to the 2022 Ag Innovation Challenge Winner
  • $20,000 will be awarded to the 2022 Ag Innovation Challenge Runner-Up
  • $15,000 will be awarded to two finalist teams
  • $10,000 will be awarded to six semi-finalist teams
  • Additional $5,000 to the People's Choice Team (chosen by public vote; all ten teams are eligible)


Jan. 10, 2022

Ag Innovation Challenge Winner, Runner-Up and People's Choice Team Announced

Jan. 10, 2022

2023 Ag Innovation Challenge Application Opens

Apr. 29, 2022 at 11:59 pm Eastern

2023 Ag Innovation Challenge Application Closes

Sept. 13, 2022 at 12 pm Eastern

Top Ten Semi-Finalists Announced


Ten startup businesses, selected by Farm Bureau and the Farm Credit Rural Investment and Innovation Workgroup, will compete at the AFBF Convention in January 2022 as semi-finalists. These ten businesses will be awarded $10,000 each.

The 10 semi-finalist teams will compete at the AFBF Convention on Friday, Jan. 7, to advance to the final round where the four finalist teams will receive an additional $5,000 for a total of $15,000. The final four teams will compete live in front of Farm Bureau members, investors and industry representatives to win:

  • Ag Innovation Challenge Winner, for a total of $50,000
  • Ag Innovation Challenge Runner-Up, for a total of $20,000
  • People’s Choice Team, for an additional $5,000

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.

The Farm Bureau and the Ag Innovation Challenge have been essential towards helping us grow into our vision. I highly recommend this competition to every ag entrepreneur out there!
—  Riley Clubb, Co-Founder of Harvust

Meet the 2022 Challenge Top Ten Entrepreneurs 

Birds Eye Robotics
Team lead: Scott Niewohner
Nebraska Farm Bureau member
Website | LinkedIn

Birds Eye Robotics has developed an autonomous robot, Birds Eye, that removes bird mortality, tills up caked bedding and improves overall animal welfare by stimulating bird movement for the poultry industry.

Caravan Tech LLC
Team lead: Richy Naisbett
Alabama Farm Bureau member
Website | Instagram | LinkedIn

Caravan Tech is an innovative company that has developed a tool for the real time tracing of livestock and a multitude of other farm management applications. Caravan Tech’s three flagship products working in unison are the Smart Ear Tags, intraruminal bolus and Caravan Chat system.

Team lead: Michael Lynch
Alabama Farm Bureau member

CHONEX is a soil health company that has developed a biological, proprietary process for upcycling poultry manure into a concentrated microbial bio-stimulant used to improve soil health by increasing soil microbes.

Team lead: Daryl Staveness
West Virginia Farm Bureau member
Website | LinkedIn

ExciPlex is an agtech startup developing a novel diagnostic technology for the on-site detection of mycotoxins in animal feed and feed inputs. This technology is designed to operate at every level of the feed production chain, thus a single core invention will deliver solutions to multiple different customer bases.

Grain Weevil Corporation 
Team lead: Chad Johnson
Nebraska Farm Bureau member
Website | FacebookTwitterLinkedIn

The Grain Weevil is a grain bin safety and management robot that directly engages the surface of the grain by leveling, breaking crusts and conducting inspections. The robot impacts the quality of stored grain and improves farmer well-being by controlling risks, controlling costs, and most importantly, removing the farmer from the bin.

Marble Technologies
Team lead: Britany Wondercheck
Nebraska Farm Bureau member
Website | Twitter | LinkedIn

Marble Technologies has developed robotic solutions that reduce the labor needs of beef and pork processing facilities to improve workplace safety by conducting tasks with a history of worker injury. Marble Technologies uses the latest advances in computer vision, artificial intelligence, and sensing technology to automate tasks in meat processing, beginning with the task of packing vacuum-sealed meat into boxes.

NEK Supply
Team lead: Blake Chance
Kansas Farm Bureau member
Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

NEK Supply has developed the Quick-Pin design that allows tractors to be quickly, easily and safely unhooked from an implement, especially in cases of emergency. By removing the Quick Pin’s top shaft, hopping in the tractor and releasing the pressure, the main shaft will fall out allowing the tractor to become quickly and easily unhooked from the implement.

Propagate Ventures
Team lead: Ethan Steinberg
New York Farm Bureau member
Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn

Propagate Ventures has developed an agroforestry platform that makes it easy for farmers and ranchers to access the operational know-how, implementation tools, financing and off-take agreements needed to reduce business risks while integrating fruit, nut and timber trees with animal or crop farming systems.

Team lead: Leighton Rice
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau member

StemPunk is the world's first hands-free, dual-dexterous, apple stem-clipping device to reduce stem punctures. The unique, patented design adds a large measure of efficiency to the process of harvesting high-value, fresh apple varieties.

Vulpes Agricultural Corp.
Team lead: Rick Shang
Missouri Farm Bureau member

Vulpes Agricultural Corp. is a manufacturing startup that has developed Carbon Black Acid, a fertilizer additive, through their accelerated R&D process. Vulpes’ flagship product, Carbon Black Acid, not only turns agricultural waste such as corn cob, sawdust, sugarcane bagasse into carbon sources that the soil and crops can use, but also modifies the carbon sources into carriers of nutrients and water. When crops take in the carbon sources, they simultaneously take in the additional dose of nutrients and water.

Meet the 2022 Ag Innovation Challenge Team 

Program Advisors

Dave Dornbirer
Vice President, Public/Private Partnerships

Dave Dornbirer is Vice President, Public/Private Partnerships at CoBank, a national cooperative bank and member of the Farm Credit System. He leads the bank’s mission-related investment activities both as a limited partner in private equity funds and as a direct investor in bonds financing essential community facilities serving rural areas. He is a member of CoBank’s Investment Committee.
His role entails developing opportunities to extend CoBank’s financial capacity, strategic alliances and industry expertise for the purpose of expanding capital formation in rural economies and communities often through partnerships with government agencies, Farm Credit, institutional investors and other stakeholders. Dornbirer serves on the Steering Committee of the Farm Credit Rural Investment & Innovation Workgroup, the advisory group for the American Farm Bureau Federation Ag Innovation Challenge, the board of the National Rural Lenders Association, and the investment advisory councils for a number of private equity funds.
In 2004, he started his career at CoBank in the Water & Community Facilities group financing water and wastewater utilities as well as solid waste service providers throughout the United States. Prior to CoBank, he led the operations of fintech startup Blackbird Holdings, arranged financings of power and energy projects at NationsBank/Bank of America and served in the U.S. Navy. He is a graduate of Miami University and earned an MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Todd Erickson, CFA
Vice President, Commercial Lending
Farm Credit Bank of Texas

Todd has served FCBT since 2013, currently as an agribusiness lender. Todd previously held senior roles at other financial institutions, including as a global equity Portfolio Manager for Teacher Retirement System of Texas, and before that as a Vice President for Credit Suisse First Boston in New York, Tokyo, Chicago, and Houston, advising hedge funds and pensions.  Todd holds an MBA and BBAs from the University of Texas at Austin. He has been a CFA charterholder since 2003.

Farm Bureau Innovation Team

American Farm Bureau Federation Staff

  • Emma Larson, Assistant Director, Industry Relations
  • Sarah Bair, Industry Relations Coordinator

Farm Credit Council Staff

  • Brittany Jablonsky, Vice President, Public Policy and Stakeholder Relations

  • Mary Carlson, Manager, Communications and Stakeholder Relations

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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