The American Farm Bureau Federation, in partnership with Farm Credit, has opened online applications for the 2022 Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge. This national business competition showcases U.S. startup companies that are providing solutions to challenges faced by America’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Farm Bureau will award $165,000 in startup funds provided by sponsors Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, Farm Bureau Bank, Farm Bureau Financial Services, FMC Corporation and John Deere.
Launched in 2015 as the first national competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs, the Challenge continues to identify the next ag entrepreneurs to watch and supports innovation essential to Farm Bureau member businesses and communities.
In 2018, Tucson, Arizona’s Merchant’s Garden AgroTech earned a nationwide semifinalist spot with 9 others in American Farm Bureau’s (AFBF) Ag Innovation Challenge. Semi-finalists received $10,000 each. “Being named a Top 10 Innovation from the American Farm Bureau, the largest farm organization in the world, brought significant value to our company beyond the $10,000 in cash award,” said Merchant’s Garden owner and Arizona Farm Bureau-member Chaz Shelton.
Since then, Arizona Farm Bureau has had other volunteer member leaders submit to compete in the Innovation Challenge.
“We know that in order to curb the migration of youth and big thinkers out of rural communities we need to provide opportunities for them to shine and expand entrepreneurial activities,” says Arizona Farm Bureau President and southern Arizona rancher Stefanie Smallhouse. “Strong communities depend on small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit. We have already seen some great innovation in Arizona agriculture, and I would encourage others to take on this challenge.”
For this eighth year of the competition, Farm Bureau is seeking entrepreneurs who are addressing either traditional or new/emerging challenges. The 2021 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year, Riley Clubb with Harvust, addressed traditional challenges by developing a software platform that helps farmers successfully hire, train and communicate with employees. The competition is also open to entrepreneurs tackling new challenges that surfaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Farm Bureau members across the country continue to grapple with a number of challenges associated with the pandemic,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Now, more than ever, we need creative solutions from entrepreneurs to help our farmers, ranchers and rural communities thrive.”
For example, 2021 Ag Innovation semi-finalist Butter Meat Co. is a beef supply chain startup based in Western New York that is working to improve the value proposition of retired dairy cows as beef for farmers and consumers. Owners of the business are building a dairy beef brand that increases the farm gate value and offers customers flavorful beef produced eco-consciously. Another Ag Innovation semi-finalist, AgriHoodBaltimore, launched the Urban Farmer Training Resource Institute with a focus on developing the next generation of junior urban farmers.
Farm Bureau and Farm Credit will select 10 startup companies to compete as semi-finalists at the AFBF Convention in January 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. The 10 semi-finalist teams will be announced on Oct. 5 and awarded $10,000 each. These 10 teams will compete to advance to the final round where four teams will receive an additional $5,000 each and compete live on stage in front of Farm Bureau members, investors and industry representatives. The final four teams will compete to win:
- Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge Winner, for a total of $50,000
- Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge Runner-up, for a total of $20,000
- People’s Choice Team selected by public vote, for an additional $5,000 (all 10 semi-finalist teams compete for this honor)
The top 10 semi-finalist teams will participate in pitch training and mentorship from Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management faculty prior to competing at AFBF’s Convention. In addition, the top 10 semi-finalist teams will have the opportunity to network with industry leaders and venture capital representatives from the Agriculture Department’s Rural Business Investment Companies.
Entrepreneurs must be Farm Bureau members to qualify as top 10 semi-finalists. Applicants who are not Farm Bureau members can join a state Farm Bureau of their choice. Visit https://www.azfb.org/Join to learn about becoming a member. Detailed eligibility guidelines, the competition timeline, videos and profiles of past winners are available at fb.org/challenge. Applications must be received by midnight Eastern Daylight Time on Aug. 20.