Steering tech innovation towards small-scale farming solutions while promoting strong, local food economies across California.

SEEKING JUDGES & INNOVATORS FOR THE 2023 CHALLENGE

The Innovation Challenge invites entrepreneurs, students, hackers and any ingenious, farm-loving thinkers to propose tech-based innovations that will help small scale agriculture compete, survive and thrive. All submissions welcome – from simple creations to fully-fleshed out business plans!

Application portal opens summer 2022. 

The Innovation Challenge is seeking judges, promotional partners, and sponsors for the 3nd Small Farm Tech Innovation Challenge. 


CLICK HERE TO GET INVOLVED

Or contact techhub@caff.org | 619-333-8412

Awards Ceremony, Sunday, February 27th from 4-5:15pm PST

And the winners are…. Join us for the 2022 awards ceremony of the Small Farm Innovation Challenge, and stick around for a conversation  with the winners. Meet the winners, hear from our panel of judges, and explore the latest tech trends as well as the challenges and opportunities facing today’s small-scale farms. 

Event Registration here

APPLICATION PORTAL – CLOSED FOR 2022

 All ideas, big or small, in any phase of development, will be accepted for the Innovation Challenge. Whether you’re an engineer or a crafty farmer, a local food-loving startup or a team of students, we’re challenging you to share an innovation that can help small-scale farms compete, survive and thrive. 

Contact us with any questions at techhub@caff.org
DEADLINE TO APPLY: NOVEMBER 1, 2021
Please select the application portal that best describes you and your innovation:

DIY
INNOVATORS

You’ve welded, repurposed, coded, or jerry-rigged your way to a small farm solution and you wan to share it with the world. Big or small, this challenge category is for all you open-source, tinkering, do-it-yourself innovators.


DIY’er APPLICATION

ENTREPRENEURIAL INNOVATORS

You’ve got a new product or business idea designed to help solve the one of the many challenges facing small farms today. Whether it’s a concept, prototype, or in final development, this is the challenge category for you!


ENTREPRENEUR APPLICATION

All innovators who submit a complete application will receive free registration to the 2022 California Small Farms Conference.

ag tech logo small grey

OVERVIEW: SMALL FARM INNOVATION CHALLENGE

THE PROBLEM
THE CHALLENGE
GUIDELINES
EXAMPLES
PARTICIPATE
SELECTION
AWARD
THE PROBLEM

Farmers need right-sized technology. 

Tools and technology can help farmers improve efficiency, save labor and connect with their customers. But many of the innovations in agriculture today are being built for large-scale production, out of reach for most family farms all while contributing to ecological degradation and yet more consolidation in the industry, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Despite America’s technological progress, every day 4 farms go out of business. Creeping ever-upward at an alarming rate, the average age of farmers has now surpassed 60. Meanwhile, many of those farms that do stay afloat are doing so at a loss. Over half of our nation’s farms report negative net income. Coupled with a “get big or get out” ideology, it would seem that technology has left smaller farms behind, all to the detriment of rural economies, social equity and even the health, sustainability and quality of our food. But does it have to be this way?

THE CHALLENGE

Whether you’re an engineer or just a crafty farmer, a startup or a team of grad students, we’re challenging you to share or develop a new innovation that can help smaller-scale farms compete, survive and thrive. From hardware to software, mechanical harvesters to marketing apps, we’re seeking proposals for technologies that will help level the playing field, strengthen local food systems and promote on-farm sustainability. As part of the 2022 Small Farms Conference, submissions will be evaluated by a panel of judges representing farmers, investors, entrepreneurs and the tech industry. Winners will be showcased at the conference as well as at several other agricultural conferences, in video and online with the aim of helping shine a light on your innovation and you make your bright idea a reality.

This Challenge is open to global submissions and can include individuals, teams, students and start-up businesses. Please note that the bulk of promotion and recognition will take place in California, which is the nation’s largest agricultural state producing over 400 commodities at nearly $50 billion.

Three winners will be announced in January. A formal award ceremony will take place at the 2022 Small Farms Conference, Feb. 27 – March 3rd 2022.

GUIDELINES

Submissions will be accepted in any phase of development but must be received before November 1, 2021, 12am PST. Winners will be selected from both tracks.

While DIY Innovations submissions are intended to be open-source and shared freely, all designs and intellectual property submitted to the Entrepreneurial Innovation track will remain with submitters. Elements of your proposal may be kept confidential. Patents welcome.

Submissions will be judged by CAFF staff and selection committee members based on the attributes below. Please read “SELECTION” for more details. 

  • Promotes the economic viability of small-scale farm businesses 
  • Novelty
  • Financially accessible to small farm budgets
  • Adaptability to a variety of farm systems and circumstances
  • Promotes ecologically sustainable farm practices
  • Repairable / adjustable by user
  • Enables direct sales and local food systems
  • Maintains farm autonomy; avoids dependence, monopolization 
  • Long-term relevance
  • Compatibility with diverse crop systems
  • Ease of use

EXAMPLES

The winner of the 2019 Small Farm Innovation Challenge was The Farm Hand Tractor.

The Farm Hand Tractor

Examples of Relevant Categories and Farmers Needs:

  • Harvesting and planting tools
  • Soil management & monitoring
  • Sales, Inventory Management & Tracking software
  • Wash & Pack
  • Record Keeping
  • Fencing, On-farm Energy, Livestock Management Tools
  • Poultry Equipment
  • Irrigation & Water Systems
  • Season Extension, Crop Storage
  • Weeding Tools

PARTICIPATE

Submissions will be accepted through our online application portal and must be received before the deadline, November 1, 2021, 12am PST.

APPLICATION PORTAL

Please select the application portal that best describes your innovation. All innovators who submit complete applications will receive free registration for the 2022 Small Farms Conference.  

DIY Innovators: You’ve welded, repurposed, coded, created a spreadsheet, or jerry-rigged your way to a small farm solution and you wanna share it with the world. Big or small, this challenge is for all you open-source, tinkering, do-it-yourself innovators. Submit what you’ve got!

Entrepreneurial Innovators: You’ve got a new product or business idea designed to help solve one of the many challenges facing small farms today. Whether it’s a concept, prototype or in final development, this is the challenge for you!

SELECTION

Three winners will be selected by a committee of individuals representing the small farm agricultural sector. 

Each application will be reviewed by CAFF staff and complete applications will move to next stage of review. Selection committee members will review applications from each category and provide a score based on the following rubric:

DIY Innovators:  Graded focused on overall practicality and accessibility for the small farmer.

Entrepreneurial Innovators: Graded on readiness to tackle the more complex challenges facing the small farm community.  

All Applications:

  • Novelty
    • Does the product/service already exist? 
  • Promotes the economic viability of smaller-scale farm businesses
    • Do the benefits outweigh the costs of the product/service?
    • Is there product-market fit? Will there be demand from smaller-scale farm businesses for this innovation?
  • Compatibility with ecologically diverse crop systems & production practices
  • Financially accessible to small farm budgets
    • What is the cost to implement?
    • Is the product/service affordable to small farm businesses with limited operating budgets? 
  • Ease of use
    • Can a farmer of any skill level understand how to use it?
    • Can it be applied to a farm business without a substantial need to increase resources (labor hours, inputs, new equipment, etc.)?
    • Can farmers seek technical support for this product/service if they need it?
    • Can the product be modified/updated?
  • Adaptability to a variety of farm systems and circumstances
    • Can it be applied to different production methods?
    • Is it feasible for farms of any size to use?
  • Repairable/adjustable by user
    • Can the user can repair as needed without relying on another company?
    • Is the innovation open source?  
  • Promotes ecologically sustainable farm practices
    • Does it promote any of the following practices?
      • Integrated pest management
      • Reduces GHG emissions
      • Builds soil and plant biomass (compost, no-till, etc)
      • Conserves natural resources (water, topsoil)
      • Cover crops, hedgerows, etc
      • Integrated crop, livestock management
      • Reduced fertilizer runoff
  • Increases farm capabilities for business management, marketing, and access to local food economies:
    • Will it improve market access or increase market channels?
    • Does it support with increasing sales?
    • Will it help build a stronger community food network?
    • Can it be applied to any local food system community?
  • Provides solutions/relief to the BIG challenges experienced by farmers?
    • Does the innovation help alleviate pressure and challenges farmers face from drought, wildfires, shortage of labor, high costs for inputs, land access, etc?
  • Holds long-term relevance

AWARD

1st Place Winner: $200 Johnny’s Seeds gift card + more prizes

Runner Up: $50 Johnny’s Seeds gift card + more prizes

Innovation Challenge winners will have the opportunity to present their innovation to a wide audience including conferences such as the Small Farms Conference. All innovators who submit complete applications will receive free registration for the 2022 Small Farms Conference. Winners will be celebrated via social media and to CAFF’s broad-based audience of farmers, agricultural and food industry professionals, and small farm advocates.

Momentum and attention gained from this challenge can help propel your innovation into new avenues and help make important connections. The winner of the last Innovation Challenge, FarmHand Tractor has now made his idea a business reality and was selected as a 2021 cohort member of the business accelerator program Food System 6

BROUGHT TO YOU BY:




CHECK OUT THE 2019 INNOVATION CHALLENGE WINNER

THE FARMHAND TRACTOR

Learn more about the 1st Innovation Challenge held in 2019. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ByjjkByESc