NEFB Newspaper

Nebraska: Growing food and technology

By Abby Durheim

Situated in the heartland of America, Nebraska cultivates countless commodities for consumers around the world. While farmers and ranchers are out in their fields producing food, fiber and energy, innovators are diligently creating cutting edge agriculture technology here in the good life state.

As one of the largest agricultural producers in the nation, it only makes sense for Nebraska to also be a leader in agriculture innovation. Nebraska Farm Bureau wants the state to be at the forefront of ag technology conversations and supports the cultivation of innovation.

“We love seeing our members’ operations move forward when they have access to new technologies,” said Mark McHargue, president of Nebraska Farm Bureau. “As technology makes production safer and more efficient, farmers and ranchers can produce more product with less resources to feed the ever-growing population. Without innovation, agriculture will not remain sustainable.”

Invest Nebraska, an entrepreneurship investment group, recognized the importance agriculture innovation has to ensuring the sustainability of our global food supply for generations to come and developed The Combine in Lincoln.

The Combine was established in 2019 to support high-growth entrepreneurs in agriculture across Nebraska in taking their ideas from infancy to reality. Nine companies have successfully completed The Combine program, producing technologies that increase farmer safety, address the agricultural laborer shortage and maximize efficiencies. Thirteen more are currently in the incubator: a time when companies are building their products while generating connections with investors and producers.

Ben Williamson, principal and general counsel at Invest Nebraska, sees the value in agriculture technology being developed here in Nebraska.

Technology

“Much of the ag technology innovation over the last two decades has come from technology ecosystems with little proximity or connection to agriculture,” Williamson said. “Nebraska and the Midwest have deep-rooted traditions in agriculture. This strong foundation provides a unique advantage for the region to lead in ag tech development. We’re now seeing exceptional entrepreneurs coming out of Nebraska that not only understand technology and innovation, but more importantly understand the real problems faced by agriculture, the realities and relationships inherent in the agri-food value chain, and the solutions that producers really want and will pay for.”

As a part of The Combine, innovators have access to the Insight Network: a group of producers across Nebraska who are willing to pilot projects on their operations. With access to this unique group of farmers, in addition to water resources and a variety of types of operations, Nebraska becomes the logical choice for ag tech companies looking to build. Companies like Bluestem Biosciences, The Grain Weevil, Sentinel Fertigation, Birds Eye Robotics and IDEM Irrigation have emerged from Nebraskan roots, making agriculture safer and more efficient across commodities. Because they had access to actual agricultural operations when developing their products, they were able to remain engaged, ensuring their products were functional for farmers and ranchers.

Tanner Nelson, manager of the Insight Network, facilitates innovators piloting products with producers. He stresses how critical it is for ag technology to remain practical for the end user.

“It is important for entrepreneurs to design solutions that solve real farm and ranch challenges. If startups do not understand the problem they are truly trying to solve, they will end up creating a business that no one needs to use,” said Nelson. “The best way to ensure a business is solving a problem, is to be in constant close contact with your customer, the producer. They will tell you if you are solving a challenge in their operation.”

For nearly the last century, Nebraska has been home to leading ag tech innovation. Technology like center pivot irrigation that once seemed farfetched was born in Nebraska and is now a crucial part in the success of operations around the world. The Nebraska community has always wanted to see entrepreneurs succeed. Josh DeMers, program manager at The Combine, explains the value of collaboration in the entrepreneurship journey.

“Collaboration raises the tide for all boats in the Nebraska entrepreneurial ecosystem. When founders and startup teams share ideas, acknowledge challenges and find ways to better each other, everyone wins,” said DeMers. “That’s one reason why we have so many teams in The Combine space on the Nebraska Innovation Campus. It’s not just one group though, entrepreneurs can find support from Invest Nebraska, Nebraska Angels, Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, Grit Road Partners, Move.VC and countless other organizations across the state that are holding events and have resources
to give entrepreneurs a better shot to be successful.”

It is evident that Nebraskans want to see their community and agriculture succeed. Technology and innovation will continue to play a key role in that success. As agriculture innovation continues to emerge here in Nebraska, the future sustainability of agriculture is strengthened.

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