Three Iowans have been named semifinalists in the Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge: Steven Brockshus, Clayton Mooney, and Washington’s own Mitchell Hora. The Ag Innovation Challenge is a “national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs.”
This marks Hora’s second year competing and his first time being included in the ten individuals from across the country making up the semifinalists.
The company that has helped him into the semifinals is Continuum Ag, a soil health consulting company Hora started while a junior at Iowa State University.
“I spent my sophomore summer in Minnesota and that’s where I learned about soil health,” Hora said. “The end of my summer, my boss up there had said ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ regarding soil health. Now it’s really become a main stream kind of thing, every ag magazine you look at now is talking about soil health and cover crops.”
In the three years since the start of his business, he’s planted the company in an office in downtown Washington where he leads three full time employees. His company also now has seeds as far-flung as New Zealand and Zimbabwe where they do consulting for companies like Zylem.
Semifinalists in the Ag Innocation Challenge receive $10,000 to help further cultivate their companies; should one progress further in the competition they stand to be awarded up to $30,000 upon winning.
“[$10,000] gives me some very useful tools to bring on more people and build more awareness of what we need to do,” Hora said. “We’re doing more marketing and that sort of thing to continue expanding.”
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The publicity of being named a semifinalist hasn’t been bad either. Even though his offices and team are in Iowa, he’s been increasingly asked to give talks domestically and abroad.
His own experiences growing up in Iowa with his family practicing early soil health on their farms, has made him all the more passionate for his work.
“That conservation culture of the area and having the data to fine tune that is awesome,” Hora said. “But what’s coming with ag tech — emerging food markets and traceability of food — is going to be really really impactful for a lot of local farmers to get paid back for the efforts they’ve been making to improve their footprint on the planet.”
Equally passionate about improving the work and lives of farmers is Steven Brockshus. Creator of Farmland Finder; his goal is to create easy access to information about rural land for sale.
“I got the idea in 2015 when I went to a land auction with my dad,” Brockshus said. “I talked to people about the prices and noticed a disparity in the information some had about what they were bidding on.”
From what he saw, not everyone had the means to do detailed research on the land they were looking at. Through Farmland Finder, he hopes to close that knowledge gap.
“When people have access to information, it gives them the ability to do research on plots of land they might want to buy,” he said.
Like Hora, Brockshus comes graduated from Iowa State University, but they have more in common than that. Both of them — as well as Clayton Mooney — came out of Iowa’s Ag Startup Engine (ASE).
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Started in 2016, ASE’s goal is to find young companies specializing in agriculture and helping them find their footing in the business world.
“I really look at the investments me wake as investments in the entrepreneurs,” said Joel Harris, Co-director of ASE. “Those passionate driven people who know their industry, or can figure it out, and hold their own in front of a room full of investors.”
One of the semifinalist last year — Mathew Rooda and his company Swinetech — also progressed with the help of ASE. Meaning of the seven people in their portfolio, more than half have been nationally recognized.
“I like to believe that we’re a good facilitator and connector to resources these guys might not have had since they’re right out of college,” Harris said.
The pool of ten semifinalist in The Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge will be narrowed down to four finalists on Dec. 5; in early 2019 those four will then go to New Orleans where they will compete for the top spot.