Technology has permeated nearly every aspect of agriculture during the past two decades but buying and selling its most valuable asset — farmland — was stuck in the past.

Steven Brockshus set out to change that during an agriculture entrepreneurship class at Iowa State University, creating an online platform where landowners could see farmland listings, sale results and get an estimate on the value of their own farmland.

Last week, Brockshus’ start-up business, called FarmlandFinder, won the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Ag Innovation Challenge by beating three other teams in a live-pitch competition at AFBF’s 100th annual convention in New Orleans.

The win marks the fourth time in the contest’s five-year history that an Iowa entrepreneur has taken top honors in the national competition. Brockshus attributed that success to the start-up business culture and mentoring programs available through ISU, Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa program and others.

“There’s a spirit of people willing to help,” said Brockshus, who grew up on a dairy farm near Ocheyedan. “I’ve been able to tap into all these resources, and people have been more than willing to help as we grow the start-up ecosystem in Iowa. I think we can see in the next 5 to 10 years, Iowa being a center for start-up activities, especially for agriculture.”

Rising to the top

FarmlandFinder beat out hundreds of applicants to earn a total of $30,000 in prize money as AFBF’s Rural Entrepreneur of the Year. The four finalists competed in front of a live audience and judges on the main stage in the IDEAg Trade Show at the AFBF convention.

“It’s like the Super Bowl of the ag world,” said Brockshus.

Glean LLC of North Carolina won the People’s Choice Award (chosen by public vote) and a $10,000 award. Glean LLC produces healthy and fresh foods made from fruits and vegetables.

The other finalists were AgHelp Corp. of Michigan and Elite OviGen Inc. of Florida. Each of the finalists received $15,000.

The Ag Innovation Challenge, now in its fifth year, provides opportunities for individuals to showcase business innovations being developed in rural regions of the United States. It is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs working on food and agriculture businesses. The top challenge teams were selected by judges with expertise in business development, equity investment funding management, agribusiness lending and entrepreneurial coaching.

“We’re proud to recognize these outstanding rural businesses and entrepreneurs,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “The faith, courage and creativity these entrepreneurs have shown in starting their rural businesses is commendable.”

Iowa winners

Previous Iowa winners of the competition included ScoutPro, AccuGrain and SwineTech.

FarmlandFinder, headquartered in Ames, recently expanded its digital tools to 12 states throughout the Midwest. The website features more than 6,500 properties for sale and includes tools to help land professionals with farmland acquisition, valuation and analysis.