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American Farm Bureau awards $120K to rural entrepreneurs

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Rural America is getting a little kickstart from the American Farm Bureau Federation. Four finalists and six semifinalists were selected for the 2017 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge. Now in its third year, the program provides opportunities for individuals to showcase business innovations being developed in rural communities throughout the U.S.

“Entrepreneurship is alive and well in rural America,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall in a release. “It’s a pleasure to recognize these 10 outstanding businesses. The FB Challenge addresses some of the unique obstacles entrepreneurs typically face, namely, limited options for support such as startup funding.”

The final four teams, chosen from 356 applicants, were each awarded $15,000 and will advance to the next phase of the challenge. The final four are:

  • Grow Bioplastics LLC, Knoxville, Tennessee–ag tech entry. Renewable, biodegradable products that eliminate oil-based plastics for farmers, greenhouse and nursery managers, and home gardeners.
  • Levrack LLC, Seward, Nebraska–support services entry. An efficient and orderly solution to reduce clutter in farm shops.
  • Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, Anchorage, Alaska–farm/ranch entry. Turnkey, hydroponic vegetable production facilities inside 40-foot-long insulated shipping containers.
  • Windcall Manufacturing Inc., Venango, Nebraska–ag tech entry. Grain Goat, a battery powered, hand-held combine for sampling moisture content of grain.

Semi-finalists in the competition were awarded $10,000 each, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Farm Credit. The winners are:

  • Demeter Inc., Irwin, Ohio–ag tech entry. Low-cost precision agriculture software and sensor systems derived from rugged, field-tested military technologies.
  • Farmzie, Raleigh, North Carolina–support services entry. Marketing tools, payment processing and reporting systems to help small farmers access local markets.
  • Gardens 4 Education, Hanford, California–marketing program entry. Tomato garden kits for schools as a healthy alternative to cookie and candy fundraisers.
  • Inland Sea Company LLC, Ames, Iowa–farm/ranch entry. Sustainable salmon production system that features consistent weekly harvest and takes advantage of economies of scale.
  • Lowcountry Street Grocery, Charleston, South Carolina–direct markets entry. Community-supported mobile farmers’ market that delivers local, farm-fresh, healthy food and provides nutrition education.
  • Performance Livestock Analytics Inc., Osage, Iowa–ag tech entry. Data-driven, real-time farm management and analytics systems for precision livestock operations.

The final four will pitch their business ideas to a team of judges in front of a live audience at AFBF’s 98th Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show in Phoenix on Jan. 8, 2017. They’ll compete for the Rural Entrepreneur of the Year Award and an additional $15,000 in prize money, courtesy of sponsor Farm Bureau Bank . After the live-streamed event, members of the public will be invited to vote online for the People’s Choice Award and an additional $10,000.

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