Iowa continues to be the land of corn, soybeans, hogs and award-winning, rural entrepreneurs as this is the fifth year in a row Iowa Farm Bureau members have been named in the top ten finalists for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Ag Innovation Challenge. In partnership with Farm Credit, this is a first of its kind national business competition exclusively for rural entrepreneurs focused on solving food and agricultural challenges.

The three Iowa finalists in the national Ag Innovation Challenge were mentored by Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRIA) program, which excels at helping Iowans take their ideas from the drawing board to the board room.  “Those who work in agriculture are natural problem solvers,” says IFBF President Craig Hill. “But to be able to take a problem and put it to paper to create a business out of it to help others is something special and part of what makes an Iowan an Iowan—the desire to help out others. Programs like Renew Rural Iowa help take those innovative ideas and put them to work.”

Iowans value water quality, and Mitchell Hora of Washington County understands water quality and soil health go hand-in-hand, so he started Continuum Ag to help farmers develop specific “prescriptions” to improve the quality of their farmland. Using soil tests, data and research, Hora helps his clients make changes that limit nutrient loss, improve their family farm’s bottom line and nurture soils that grow healthy crops—and retain water.

One of the challenges in Iowa agriculture is the limited access to farmland and that inspired Steven Brockshus and his team with FarmlandFinder to create a service to help farmers see what land is for sale in the Midwest and set notifications for auctions.  FarmlandFinder can also provide landowners and real estate teams with data such as crop history reports and soil maps to make informed purchases and provides one-on-one service to help clients secure their “ideal land opportunity.” 

A growing concern in the food system is supply and sustainability, which inspired the team of Nebullam LLC, led by Clayton Mooney. Located within the Iowa State University Research Park, this company grows lettuce and herbs in a vertical, indoor plant system using aeroponics, eliminating the need for soil. Their operation decreases the need for human labor by 30 percent and provides a “horticultural assistant” software to work to assist with every new planting cycle. It’s what they call the “art of future food.”

To be named in the top 10, these three Iowa entrepreneurs detailed many aspects of their businesses, including identifying the problem their product or business can solve, their market base, their business model and employee structure. Each semi-finalist has been awarded $10,000, and on Dec. 5, four of the top ten will be awarded an additional $5,000 and compete in a live-pitch for “Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year”, selected by judges, or get a chance to win the “People’s Choice” award at the AFBF Annual Convention in New Orleans in January.

Last year’s Entrepreneur of the Year Matthew Rooda with SwineTech, another RRIA mentored business, wowed the judges with his technology that saves the lives of piglets. He has since been named one of Forbes “30 Under 30.”