While farm tech may conjure images of GPS-driven tractors, robot harvesters, and biotechnology, a new competition in California is calling on innovators to refocus their attention away from scaling up Industrial Ag and towards empowering small farms.
Now in its second year, the Small Farm Innovation Challenge invites anyone, anywhere to submit innovations designed to give smaller-scale food producers a leg up. From hardware to software, eligible innovations range from simple, repurposed tools welded in a farmer’s barn to entrepreneurial startups aiming to revolutionize the local food system. Submissions will be accepted from farmers, students, engineers, and anyone with a bright idea for helping small farms succeed.
“So many of the innovations we’re seeing in agriculture today are not only designed for much bigger farms,” says Evan Wiig of Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), which created the challenge, “but they give larger farms yet another competitive edge, further pushing out those who can’t afford the latest tech. The goal of this challenge is to redirect innovators’ attention to the needs of smaller farms, to help even the playing field.”
The Innovation Challenge first began in 2019, when CAFF noticed few if any offerings at ag tech trade shows that were relevant to small-acre growers. The Innovation Challenge was intended not only to discover and highlight innovations that serve the small farm, but also to inspire problem-solvers to begin asking the right questions. The winner of the 2019 Challenge, David Haynes, had been percolating on an idea for a remote-controlled, semi-autonomous, all-electric tractor for years. But it wasn’t until hearing about the Innovation Challenge that he finally got to work on putting the idea into action. Since winning, Haynes has moved from concept to prototype to shipping out the first production models of what he now calls the FarmHand Tractor.
But the Innovation Challenge is about more than just tractors. Second place in 2019 went to a software program designed to help school districts more easily purchase from local farms, benefiting not just farms, but improving the accessibility of healthy, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Other entries aimed to tackle soil health, water efficiency, packaging, farm marketing or just making farmers’ lives a little easier.
The deadline for this year’s Challenge is November 1st, 2021. Winners will be announced at next year’s California Small Farm Conference in February of 2022. Participants can enter into one of two categories: the Entrepreneurial track, designed for those developing commercial products, and the DIY track, for those who want to freely share tools and innovations that any farmer can make themselves.
For more information about the Innovation Challenge or to participate, visit caff.org/caffs-2022-innovation-challenge