By Cyndie Shearing @CyndieShearing
As the COVID-19 pandemic began rippling across America a few months ago, business owners of all types – including those who serve agriculture – began looking at ways to adapt what they do to meet the changing needs of customers. Some recent top finishers in the Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge illustrate this trend, as they successfully adapted their business models to cope with the impacts of the coronavirus.
AgButler, a 2020 semi-finalist, is a gig economy platform that helps address the rural labor shortage in America. The company provides on-demand jobs, giving farmers and ranchers access to a high-quality labor force while boosting rural economies.
“Nothing gets me more excited than connecting farmers and ranchers from across the country with skilled labor, and to give back to the industry I was born and raised in,” said founder Kevin Johansen.
After the pandemic upended the labor market and sent millions of young adults home from school in March, Johansen and the AgButler team worked with Missouri Farm Bureau to release the MO AgConnection app, a free resource to help connect students looking for work with farmers in need.
Rantizo, a 2020 finalist, developed an integrated drone-based platform to identify in-field anomalies and targeted aerial application of agricultural products to crops. The technology “addresses customer pain in the form of reduced labor and capital expenditure, increased crop yields through reduced crop destruction and soil compaction, and diminished environmental damage from chemical over-application and spray drift,” according to founder Michael Ott.
Since the start of the pandemic, Rantizo has shifted focus, entering into partnerships with several large venues – including Major League Baseball teams – for sanitization efforts. The company’s drone spraying platform will be used to sanitize open areas and seating for the return of spectator events that have been closed due to the pandemic.
“We’re looking forward to utilizing our technology to sanitize stadiums, parks and arenas around the country and hopefully restore some normalcy to communities very soon,” said Ott.
Looking a bit further back, after winning 2018 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year, SwineTech has gone on to protect roughly 2 million pigs through novel technologies that minimize labor and energy use. The company has expanded its customer base to Canada and has “focused more than ever on supporting pork producers in their quest to provide safe pork for consumers all over the world,” according to co-founder Matthew Rooda. He and other company principals raised $5 million in venture funding prior to the start of the pandemic.
Enter the 2021 Ag Innovation Challenge
If learning about what some of the top finishers in the Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge have been up to lately strikes a chord with you, why not enter the 2021 competition?
Farm Bureau will award $145,000 in startup funds to 10 businesses, culminating at a live pitch competition and networking event at the American Farm Bureau Convention in January 2021 in San Diego, California. The Farm Bureau Entrepreneur 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. Learn more and apply here.
Cyndie Shearing is director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.