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Agro Empresas Black Belt of Puerto Rico wins People's Choice Award in Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge.

Janet Kubat Willette, E-Content Editor

January 15, 2021

3 Min Read
Two men - Harvust founders Riley Clubb and James Christopher Hall
Riley Clubb and James Christopher Hall are co-founders of Harvust, honored as the 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Ag Innovation Challenge. Harvust

Harvust of Walla Walla, Washington, won the seventh annual Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge, becoming Farm Bureau's Entrepreneur of the Year.

The company's software platform helps farmers hire, train and communicate with employees.

Farmers who use Harvust find it easier and less expensive than ever to engage with their workforce and complete hiring paperwork, said Riley Clubb, a Washington Farm Bureau member, and Harvust co-founder.

Clubb and his co-founder James Christopher Hall started Harvust three years ago, pairing their agriculture and technology backgrounds to bring innovative technology to farmers.

"We knew farmers were struggling to keep up with the ever-flowing firehose of new government rules, regulations and paperwork," Clubb said during the final four round of competition. "We knew that the stacks of paper, rows of file cabinets and the old binders on the shelf just weren't getting the job done anymore. And we knew how much time and money farmers were spending just to keep their heads above the water. What we didn't know was that 2020 would somehow find a way to make things exponentially worse."

Farmers who use Harvust say they are able to complete hiring paperwork twice as fast and twice as accurate with far less staff. Farm workers also complete their safety paperwork in less time using their smartphone. The language barrier that exists in many cases is addressed with audio-translated messages to each employee.

"As a no hardware company, we are extremely nimble and a little capital can go a very long way," Clubb said. "We are revenue-positive and profitable and uniquely positioned in the market to deliver game-changing benefits to the entire industry."

The duo is looking for money to expand.

"We are ready to scale nationwide and bring what we have learned in Washington to the rest of the country," Clubb said.

People's Choice

Agro Empresas Black Belt of Coamo, Puerto Rico, won the People’s Choice Award, which is decided by public vote, and received a total of $20,000. Luis Raimundo Bures Martinez, a Puerto Rico Farm Bureau member, is team lead for the company, which standardizes methods and processes for hydroponic crop production.

The company started in 2017 when it converted an abandoned poultry facility for hydroponic production. The dual goals of Agro Empresas are to increase the production of locally grown food in Puerto Rico and to increase the number of young farmers. In Puerto Rico, 90% of the food is imported and the average age of farmers is 55.

Other competitors

Arbré Technologies Inc. of Wisconsin, led by Matthieu Vollmer, a Wisconsin Farm Bureau member, and TerraClear Inc. of Idaho, led by Trevor Thompson, an Idaho Farm Bureau member, are the other two finalist teams that competed in the final round of the competition. 

The final four teams were selected Jan. 8 from 10 semi-finalist business owners who presented to a panel of six industry judges. Each of the 10 finalists was awarded $7,500 and the final four teams were awarded a total of $15,000 each.

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do as farmers and ranchers, and these Challenge finalists have created a wide array of solutions to help us continue to grow plentiful, healthy food, fuel and fiber,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.

The Entrepreneur of the Year was selected by a four-person judging panel: Jamie Johansson, president, California Farm Bureau Federation; Nick Wijnberg, vice president of food and agribusiness, Farm Credit; Tom Schryver, executive director of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement, Cornell University; and Taya Spelhaug, TechSpark manager, North Dakota, Microsoft.

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