“Sustainability” is a buzzword often included in the social responsibility promises made by large corporations, but as a seventh generation Washington County farmer and Farm Bureau member, Mitchell Hora knows “sustainability” is part of a family farm’s legacy, and one that hinges on soil health. Through his business, Continuum Ag, Hora has turned data lurking beneath a farm ground’s surface into practical decision-making tools to help farmers improve their land, increase productivity and protect the environment, earning him Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) Entrepreneur Award.

Created in 2015 during Hora’s junior year at Iowa State University, Continuum Ag was inspired by his work helping farmers in South Africa manage soil health. Today, working with consultants, agronomy companies and farmers all over the world, Hora takes data generated from Iowa agriculture and applies it to soils across the globe. His company, which employs 16 people, has done business with clients in 40 states and 11 countries.

Having outgrown the capacity of Excel files, Hora built an online analytics system to plot soil health data. His business uses these tools to help family farms optimize soil fertility management and implement sustainable ag practices such as cover crops and reduced tillage. In applying these conservation measures, soil changes biologically, he says, and Continuum Ag can quantify that biology to help farmers work “with Mother nature and not against her.”

Continuum Ag is also connecting supply chain companies with farmers to create partnerships to scale sustainable-driven practices such as carbon sequestration. Hora says he is excited for the opportunities carbon markets—a system that incentivizes practices that reduce carbon emissions—may provide and how his business can assist farmers in quantifying carbon, providing reinvestment into their farms. “Farmers will better understand the benefit they provide not just in terms of bushels but in terms of their carbon footprint,” he says. “American agriculture is what it is because of the innovation, entrepreneurship and ability to push further, and that’s what we need from a carbon market.”

“Farmers have a really unique opportunity to not only provide the food, fuel and fiber for the world but also to solve carbon issues, water quality issues and flooding issues,” says Hora. “We’re in a really unique space, but to quantify the gains we’re creating, we have to have data, and that’s where we [Continuum Ag] come in.”

Iowa Farm Bureau Regional Manager Jerry Anderson says Continuum Ag is one of many growing companies in southeastern Iowa, but having Hora return to the area after college is what makes the business especially impactful. “They could have settled anywhere, but they decided to come home,” says Anderson. “With technology today, you can live in a place like Washington, Iowa—a safe place and a good place to raise kids—and have all the amenities of a big city with small town life. Agriculture provides an opportunity for people to come back to Iowa and raise their families.”  

RRI is an Iowa Farm Bureau initiative that supports new and existing businesses through education, mentoring and financial resources. Since its inception, RRI has helped create more than $125M in economic impact for rural communities. For more information about RRI and upcoming business seminars, visit http://programs.iowafarmbureau.com/RRI.