For the past eight years, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Farm Credit have teamed up for the national Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge. The annual competition showcases U.S. startups developing innovative solutions that address challenges facing America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. Launched in 2015 as the first national competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs, the Innovation Challenge strives to identify the top entrepreneurs who are trying to solve traditional problems as well as addressing new challenges that agriculture faces. The 2022 challenge will put $165,000 up for grabs.
Online communication platform Harvust won the 2021 competition, earning the Entrepreneur of the Year award. The company says winning the prized doubled their customer base in a month. The platform is designed for the human resources side of agricultural businesses, allowing employers and employees to communicate through a web app. Founded in 2019, the company beta tested the platform with fruit tree harvesters before expanding into other ag arenas.
Harvust co-founder Riley Clubb says three main focuses of the platform are where most companies, even outside ag, can run into trouble – onboarding, training, and general communication. Harvust’s platform got a real world test last year as the pandemic ripped through the country, creating a particularly challenging year for farmworkers, farms, and their HR teams.
In an interview with the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Clubb said it was always his plan to have something farmers could use during hardships. And while a pandemic wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, it nonetheless worked. Clubb said that within 30 minutes of Washington state issuing a stay-at-home mandate at the start of the pandemic last year, he saw customers start sending workers communications on what the orders meant for them. He says it was the perfect example of when you want to have excellent communication with your employees.
Harvust recently inked a partnership with the Washington Farm Bureau to disseminate critical COVID-19 information and resources to farmers and their employees. The Harvust platform sends messages directly to farmworkers’ phones and in their preferred language. The system confirms messages are received, or can automatically alert managers if there is an issue with an employee’s phone.
Farm managers can also coordinate training through the Harvust platform. Users can add their own content or choose from a built-in library of training programs, videos, and more that the startup has acquired from trusted agriculture safety sources. And the platform can automatically create and organize records to keep users ready for any audit or compliance visits.
Harvust said they planned to use the cash from the Innovation prize to reach out to farmers beyond their home state of Washington. They say that while they are eager to expand, they expect it will be slow going as they familiarize themselves with each state’s individual laws. You can learn more about Harvust HERE. Watch a video of one of their customers, Top En Twel dairy, talk about their experience with Harvust HERE.
For the 2022 Innovation Challenge, Farm Bureau will award $165,000 in startup funds to ten businesses, culminating at a live pitch competition and networking event at the AFBF Annual Convention in January 2022 in Atlanta, GA. The Ag Innovation Challenge Winner will be awarded $50,000 in startup funds provided by sponsors Farm Credit, Bayer Crop Science, John Deere, Farm Bureau Bank, Farm Bureau Financial Services, and FMC Corporation. Learn more HERE.