Innovation drives agriculture forward. From the first iron plow, developed nearly 200 years ago, to the driverless tractors of today, farm tools are ever changing to ensure farmers and ranchers can fulfill our mission to feed and fuel our nation and beyond. But we wouldn’t have those tools without innovative businesses cropping up in rural America. That’s why 10 years ago, Farm Bureau started the Ag Innovation Challenge to help these businesses grow and thrive.
Thanks to our partnership with Farm Credit and the support of our sponsors, we have invested more than $1 million in ag businesses over the last decade. That’s $1 million to the businesses who are investing all their energy into finding solutions to agriculture’s greatest challenges. While we all know that funding is key to any business, especially in its early stages, our recent winners say it’s the competitive experience and relationship-building that has been critical to their success as well.
Hydroside, the 2020 Challenge winner, credits the competition with transforming their business from a “fledgling startup” to a “focused company with a mission.” That’s the first thing co-founder and CEO Dana Mohr had to say about the impact of the Challenge. Hydroside, like many other Challenge competitors, found great value in the application process, long before their journey to center stage at the American Farm Bureau Convention. That might surprise you, but what we heard from them and other competitors, is that the creativity, market analysis and vision, that the competition demands provides a solid footing for future success. I hope that encourages any entrepreneurs reading to apply!
The Ag Innovation Challenge is meant to be more than a competition: we want entrepreneurs to have access to the tools and network they need to grow.
The Ag Innovation Challenge is meant to be more than a competition: we want entrepreneurs to have access to the tools and network they need to grow. You can’t put a price tag on those relationships either. According to Dana Mohr that networking gave Hydroside a real boost: “The relationships that we established while competing – both with the fellow competitors and industry players – set us up with the initial connections that companies usually dream of after years in business.” The 2023 Challenge winner, Will Walls of NORDEF, agrees, “The relationships, the networking, has been wonderful. And we’ve gotten to meet a lot of great people who have only validated our idea and our business model.”
The Challenge also provides these startups with much needed exposure—a benefit to them and the farmers and ranchers they’re marketing to. We purposely set up the final judging round of the competition on our trade show floor to give our members a chance to hear directly from these businesses and learn how their innovations can directly help their farm or ranch. That exposure is the first thing that our recent winner noted, in fact. According to Will Walls, “Just the awareness of our product and that we exist. That’s been wonderful.”
At Farm Bureau, we want as many farmers and ranchers to know about these businesses as possible, whether that be innovative technology like NORDEF, producing diesel exhaust fluid at the point of use, or runners-up like EmGenisys Inc., offering a noninvasive solution to improve pregnancy outcomes of assisted reproductive techniques in livestock. We know that their success can mean success for the farmers and ranchers they serve. I hope you’ll check out fb.org/challenge to learn more about this competition. If you have an innovative ag business, or know about one that should apply, applications for the 2024 Ag Innovation Challenge are now open and will close on May 12.
I cannot wait to see the next crop of businesses that are cultivated through this year’s Challenge, or how the last decade of investments continue to reap benefits for America’s farmers and ranchers for years to come.