Tucson, Arizona’s Merchant’s Garden AgroTech earns a nationwide semifinalist spot with 9 others in American Farm Bureau’s (AFBF) Ag Innovation Challenge. Semi-finalists receive $10,000 each.

The urban aquaponics fish and produce business now wait to hear if they become one of four finalists who will compete at AFBF’s Annual Meeting this January in New Orleans. If selected, Chief Executive Officer Chaz Shelton said, “I really hope to broaden my understanding of agriculture at a national scale. I hope to hear from a diverse number of farmers from all corners of the country about ways that they are adapting to the changing needs of consumers and our regulatory environment. I hope to get honest feedback on the technology we’re striving to develop to help with these changes.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, in partnership with Farm Credit, announced the 10 semi-finalist teams in the 2019 Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge last week as they prepare for their coming Annual Meeting.  

Chaz Shelton inspecting some of his produce in their greenhouse.

“It’s a pleasure to recognize these 10 outstanding rural businesses,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Recognition of the faith, courage and creativity these entrepreneurs have shown in starting their rural businesses is well-deserved. Startup funds provided to the semi-finalists through the Challenge will help them take their food and agriculture businesses to the next level.”

Merchant’s Garden AgroTech has big plans for the $10,000 award that each semifinalist received. “We plan on investing in our farm’s data strategy,” said Shelton. “We really believe that with a stronger grasp on collecting and analyzing our farm data will make us greater farmers and wise stewards of our resources. We also think we can develop something that can help other farms and food supply chain members.”

The competition provides an opportunity for individuals to showcase ideas and business innovations in agriculture. This is the fifth year of the Challenge, which is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs launching food and agriculture businesses. It’s the first time an Arizona farming business made it into the top 10.

For Shelton, this competition was perfect. “From a business perspective, the agriculture industry is an extremely attractive market to get involved with,” he said. With modern technology adoption, it’s an industry that can impact billions of people. From a passion perspective, I got involved with farming because I worked in healthcare and recognize that food is the best medicine. I saw that the changes I wanted to make in the health outcomes started with the food we eat.”

Merchant’s Garden AGroTech will be competing with nine other innovative agricultural businesses for the final-four selection.

·         AgHelp Corp., https://www.aghelpapp.com/, Belding, Michigan. Team lead: Feliciano Paredes

·         Continuum Ag, http://www.continuumagllc.com, Washington, Iowa. Team lead: Mitchell Hora

·        Elite OviGen Inc., https://www.eliteovigen.com, Beverly Hills, Florida. Team lead: Anette Skoog

·         FarmlandFinder, https://farmlandfinder.com, Ames, Iowa. Team lead: Steven Brockshus

·         Glean LLC, http://www.liveglean.com, Farmville, North Carolina. Team lead: Laura Hearn

·         Nebullam LLC, https://www.nebullam.com/, Ames, Iowa. Team lead: Clayton Mooney

·         Pasture Labs/ Trackter, https://trackter.us, Newnan, Georgia. Team lead: Josh Whitlock

·         Texas Mobile Mill LLC, http://www.texasmobileolivemill.com, Madisonville, Texas. Team lead: Cathy Bernell

·         Vinduino LLC, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4RnVSBV22o&feature=youtu.be, Temecula, California. Team lead: Reinier van der Lee

The final four teams (selected from the 10 semi-finalist teams) will be announced Dec. 5 and will receive an additional $5,000 and have all expenses paid to compete in a live pitch competition at AFBF’s 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans on Jan. 13. The final four teams will compete to win:

  • Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneur of the Year award and $15,000 (chosen by judges), for a total of $30,000
  • People’s Choice award and $10,000 (chosen by public vote), for a total of $25,000

Arizona Farm Bureau celebrates our Innovation Challenge candidate. “I heard about the competition through my state’s Farm Bureau team,” explained Shelton. “I had a chance to express my passion of growing our business through technology development and they have done a fantastic job of keeping me aware of any opportunities that cross my plate. It’s a competition that Arizona Farm Bureau has encouraged me to apply to for the last three years.”

“We’re pleased to Have Chaz and Merchant’s Garden make it to the semifinals,” said Arizona Farm Bureau President and southern Arizona rancher Stefanie Smallhouse. “We’re pleased that rural businesses are being recognized for their innovation. It’s sweeter when we see one of our own in the top 10.”

Arizona Farm Bureau profiled Chaz Shelton and Merchant’s Gardens a few years ago.

Editor’s Note:  Startup funds for the 2019 Ag Innovation Challenge are provided by sponsors Farm Credit, John Deere, Country Financial, Farm Bureau Financial Services, and Farm Bureau Bank

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