The final four teams that will compete in the American Farm Bureau Federation Ag Innovation Challenge have been announced. The final four:
- Agro Empresas Black Belt, Coamo, Puerto Rico. Team lead: Luis Raimundo Bures Martinez;
- Arbre Technologies Inc., Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Team lead: Matthieu Vollmer;
- Harvust, Walla Walla, Washington. Team lead: Riley Clubb; and
- TerraClear Inc., Grangeville, Idaho. Team lead: Trevor Thompson.
The four will compete in the final round of competition on Tuesday, Jan. 12. The winner receives The Entrepreneur of the Year award and a total of $50,000.
You can cast your vote for the Ag Innovation Challenge People's Choice Award through 7 p.m. Jan. 12.
Here's more about the final four contestants:
Arbre Tech was represented in the top 10 round by Matthieu Vollmer, who is the company co-founder, president and CEO. Arbre Tech sells cloud-based inventory management solutions utilizing RFID technology in the horticulture space to improve inventory management practices for growers.
The company has raised more than $915,000 in capital to date and won a HATCH competition in Wisconsin. As of December 2020, it had $20,000 in monthly subscription income. Arbre is doing business in 21 states and five countries and has a goal of $50,000 in recurring monthly income by yearend.
The business is working in the horticultural industry, where labor cost has increased by 34% since 2007. In California alone, the cost of labor has more than doubled since 2008, Vollmer said. Growers in California and Florida produce more than 33% of the nation's horticultural products.
In addition to cost increases, there is also a labor shortage. Implementing Arbre technology allows employees to focus on more valuable activities, rather than counting plants and inventory management, Vollmer said.
Winning the Ag Innovation Challenge would provide capital for critical new tech team hires, he said.
Agro Empresas Black Belt
Agro Empresas Black Belt was started by Luis Raimundo Bures Martinez in 2017 after Hurricane Maria caused extensive damage in Puerto Rico. The company repurposed a former poultry barn for hydroponic production. They are able to produce greens for their market in about 50 days, including 35 days in the production area. The company now utilizes about 5,000 square feet of production space. If they win the Farm Bureau competition, they will be able to double their production capacity. They need $50,000 to double their capacity.
Harvust, based in Walla Walla, Washington, is designed to make human resource tasks on the farm simple, fast and organized, said James Christopher Hall, company co-founder. Onboarding employees has become increasingly complex because of antiquated technology and increased government regulations, Hall said. COVID-19 compounded the challenges.
Users of Harvust say the company's platform makes it easier to onboard employees and fill out the required paperwork. Employees can also keep up-to-date on changing policies easier and listen to the policies in the language of their choice.
TerraClear is focused on developing an automated system to pick rocks. Brent Frei is the company founder and CEO. The idea started as Frei was picking rocks with his 81-year-old father. "With all the automation in ag, why is it that we haven't automated the armpit of agricultural processes – rock picking – we still do it manually."
A team of farmers, mechanical engineers and artificial engineers were assembled to devise a solution.
TerraClear is focused on making an inefficient task that takes several people more efficient, said company president Trevor Thompson. The ultimate goal is a fully autonomous solution to rock picking. Along the way, the TerraClear makes rock picking more efficient by allowing one person to drive a skidsteer equipped with picking equipment while machine does the heavy lifting.