The Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs with food and agriculture businesses. This year, out of 470 applicants from 47 states and Puerto Rico, Wild Valley Farms placed in the top four, bringing home $15,000 in start-up money.
The Croydon-based company, the only one in Utah to enter the competition, hopes their all-natural plant fertilizer that reduces the need for watering by 25 percent will have what it takes to net them much needed start-up money.
The application process is pretty straight forward. Rural entrepreneurs go online and fill out an application which tells Farm Bureau judges about you and your business. Wilde said, “The application is basically a business plan. From there, judges who are professors and investment bankers judge each entry.”
In addition to their accomplishment at the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, the top four finishers have the opportunity to travel to Nashville on Jan. 7, 2018, to compete in the AFBF Convention in Nashville for a chance to win additional start-up funds. The winner of the event earns an additional $15,000, for a total of $30,000.
Judges look for rural businesses that can have the greatest positive impact in their communities and beyond. They also want to make sure the business has the right team in place to be successful.
Wilde feels confident that his business fits this mold. “We have a unique product that solved two problems: one, waste wool for farmers; and two, fertilizing and water saving for plant lovers.”
Local families can also get in on the fun and give Wild Valley Farms the opportunity to take home the people’s choice award, which is an additional $10,000 prize. Watch www.strongruralamerica.com for details.
“This has been really fun and exciting just to be chosen as a finalist. We were able to get some one-on-one business development help from business experts and media training while in Washington D.C., so it’s been very educational as well,” noted Wilde gratefully.
Although most of their time was spent on business affairs, Wilde and his wife did have a little bit of time each day to see the sights. “Most of our time was at night and my wife and I rented bikes and biked around the national mall.”
According to the presenter at this year’s award ceremony, “This year it was a really tough race to get to the top 10.” Applicants increased from 350 last year to 470 this year.
Anne Hazlett, assistant to the USDA secretary for rural development, was one of the keynote speakers at the ceremony. She addressed many important factors pertaining to rural America today. “Conditions in many rural areas are challenging right now. When children grow up, many of them do not find employment opportunities in their home town. Without advocates and investors, many rural entrepreneurs would have far fewer paths to success,” said Hazlett.
She assured the crowd that the USDA wants to be a part of the efforts to further that support. “We share your passion; we share your vision; we share your commitment to rural America. We are committed to bringing opportunity and growth to these areas. Our Secretary of Agriculture [Sonny Perdue] works to create an environment in which all Americans can prosper no matter which zip code they are in.”
She stated that her team’s number one focus is infrastructure. “We believe that robust modern infrastructure is a necessity, not an amenity for communities. Whether we are talking about access to broadband, low-cost electric or other utilities, or essential community buildings such as school buildings.”
Their second focus is partnerships; she added that a new task force was created in April to streamline the resources that are currently offered to help rural businesses and communities so that the information is in one place and easier to find. The Farm Bureau has long been on the frontlines of helping find solutions to these rural American issues.
The last focus Hazlett mentioned was innovation. The USDA’s new Rural Development Innovation Center is trying to change the business environment for rural economic development. She noted that removing government barriers to prosperity has been a top priority for the secretary. Their team has also established a regulatory reform group who are poring over many of the rules that are impacting rural America both inside the USDA and without. “This group is asking some tough questions like whether or not some of the benefits of the rule are worth the cost and what impact it is having on business development,” said Hazlett, adding that the Farm Bureau have been tireless champions for regulatory relief and common sense solutions to business environments.
Among the four finalists was Hawk Knob from Lewisburg, West Virginia. Hawk Knob creates hand-crafted cider and mead. SwineTech Inc. from Oskaloosa, Iowa, created a Fitbit for pigs that prevents baby pigs from being crushed by their mothers. Wild Valley Farms from Croydon, Utah, created an all-natural plant fertilizer that reduces the need for watering by 25 percent. GeoAir from Knoxville, Tenn., invented a drone that detects molds from the air in row crops like corn.
The competition was introduced four years ago by the American Farm Bureau Foundation (AFBF) Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative (REI). This foundation helps rural entrepreneurs overcome the hurdles they face. REI aims to provide rural entrepreneurs with world-class business training, networks and resources to help them succeed. More than 1,000 businesses in 37 states have been helped through REI projects.
According to a map on their website, Wild Valley Farms is the first business in Utah to be helped through these projects. Wild Valley Farms was also the only farm in Utah listed as an entrant into this Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge.
Wild Valley Farms introduced their innovative product last year. Each year, thousands of sheep farmers shear their flocks and most of the wool obtained is sold to make clothing. However, the belly wool and wool from around the back end of the sheep, called tags, was mostly just disposed of.
Seeing that waste, the Wildes—Albert, Eric and Logan—began focusing their attention on addressing that issue on their own ranch in Croydon.
Their imaginations turned into the reality of Wooley Water Wise Wool Pellets. These pellets are “a brand new way to grow healthy, happy, all natural plants.” They are made from 100 percent American raw wool and provide fertilizer, porosity and water-wise holding ability to plants.
In England, wool pellets are used to repel slugs and snails, but there is no other fertilizer product like this in the world. Wool pellets have a fertilizer value of 9-1-2 NPK and contain just the right blend of calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur and other micronutrients. The pellets reduce the need for fertilizer in general as they are a slow-release product. The slow release helps your plants grow all year long without re-fertilization.
The whole process really only took about a year to develop after they obtained the ability to pelletize the wool. But according to Albert, it took a lot of providence, friendship and good old hard work to make this innovative product a reality.
These new wool fertilizer superheroes have the ability to hold 20 times their weight in water. This is a real blessing in times of drought as it helps to reduce the number of times you need to water your plants. In addition to reducing water usage, they also wick away extra water, protecting your plants from over-watering.
Wool pellets expand when added to your soil, helping to increase porosity for optimal root growth. This increased porosity reduces the need for artificial additives like Perlite. Wooley Water Wise Wool Pellets pride themselves on being natural, organic, sustainable and renewable—all vastly important qualities in today’s market.
Albert commented that through this development process, he has learned a lot about plants and what they need to grow. “I have learned how research is done and how to find the information needed to develop a product,” he said.
You can order Wooley Water Wise Wool Pellets and other great products online at www.wildvalleyfarms.com.