by Todd Van Hoose
Entrepreneurs – the woman who always has an idea for a new product, the man who seemingly only thinks outside the box, the neighbor down the street who never sits still. Regardless of your experience with them, they keep our economies moving forward and excite our lives with new and innovative products every day. And so many of them call rural America home.
After all, rural America has a tradition of finding fixes. Whether on the farm or around the house, tinker with this, improve that, make it better. And they accomplish these in the face of challenges that don’t impact their urban counterparts: inadequate access to broadband, higher transportation costs and lack of access to a business network.
That’s why Farm Credit partners with the American Farm Bureau Federation to host the annual Ag Innovation Challenge. This national competition invites entrepreneurs who are solving challenges faced by farmers and rural communities to compete for serious funding. The Ag Innovation Challenge raises the profile of ten rural start-ups each year through extensive social media promotion. It connects them with networks of rural innovation professionals and provides $165,000 in start-up capital. In turn their rural communities benefit from the influx of fresh ideas and innovative businesses. Learn more and apply online at fb.org/challenge by April 29.
In addition to fulfilling Farm Credit’s mission to support rural communities and agriculture, Farm Credit lenders also seek out and support rural entrepreneurs. Outside investors don’t often look to rural America to invest. Farm Credit calls rural America home. And through the Agriculture Department’s Rural Business Investment Companies, we invest in equity funds uniquely structured to serve rural America. They enhance the flow of capital to innovative small rural businesses, spurring economic development and creating job opportunities for rural families.
These investment companies specifically invest 75% of their funds in areas with a population of 50,000 or less and 50% of their funds in small enterprises. As they seek to raise $10 million in private equity, Farm Credit steps in. Farm Credit institutions across the country invest millions of dollars in RBICs. Those funds have gone on to support businesses focused on the food and agriculture value chain, technology-enabled agribusiness and more.
For example, answering a friend’s plea to help reduce the dangerous job of effectively storing grain in bins across farm country, the team at Grain Weevil built a robot to tackle the task. Now, instead of a farmer climbing into the grain bin, the Grain Weevil robot directly engages the surface of the grain, eliminating the need for a person to level, break crusts, do inspections and feed grain into the extraction augers.
In addition to financial support from Farm Credit-funded investment companies, Grain Weevil placed first in the 2022 Ag Innovation Challenge, winning $50,000.
A rural America-based company improving safety on farms across the country, funded by rural organizations. That’s a win for farmers and rural America.
Todd Van Hoose is president and CEO of the Farm Credit Council.