Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge The 2021 winners were officially announced, we’re excited to hear you learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an annual competition that awards cash prizes to entry-level technology entrepreneurs who solve the world’s toughest problems. Now in its fifth year, the competition has awarded its largest prize pool to date, US $ 1 million, to 20 winning teams around the world.
I recently met seventh generation Iowa farmer Mitchell Hora, Founder and CEO of Continuum Ag, who won one of our $ 10,000 Fourth Finalist Awards. Mitchell explains how his startup works directly with farmers to help them improve overall soil health and the transition to regenerative agriculture.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Mitchell: We must have healthy soil to grow healthy plants to provide healthy food to create healthy humans for a healthy planet. Everything is very much linked in a circle. Farmers need to better understand their soil to make better decisions about improving the health of the products they produce and to do so in a regenerative way.
Many societal problems can arise from agriculture, such as the release of carbon into the atmosphere, poor water quality, flooding and the impact on human health. But today agriculture has the opportunity to be part of the solution, and that starts with improving soil health. However, farmers need better data to understand the health of their soils. Farmers see the opportunity to be part of the solution, but changing practices is complex, understanding biology is complicated and moving to regenerative systems is difficult.
Continuum Ag is a soil health data company, and we help farmers overcome the logistical and economic risk of change. We help farmers by quantifying soil health and providing data in an easy-to-understand and consistent program. Farmers use this data to better understand supply chains, carbon markets and other service markets, allowing them to benefit from better management decisions.
We use data and our network of crop consultants and farmers to overcome risks and ensure their success when adopting regenerative practices, such as promoting biodiversity through crop rotation and disposal or disposal. reduced tillage. On the Hora farm, we have seen a 45% decrease in synthetic fertilizers, a 75% decrease in pesticides, a massive increase in soil carbon and water infiltration, while maintaining excellent crop yields. Learn more in the attached video about some of the other benefits of planting various crops:
Can you explain how the solution works?
Mitchell: Ag continuum Topsoil is an online management platform where farmers can map their fields and collect data to map soil health. TopSoil helps use the latest and greatest technologies, such as machine learning and real-time sensors, but brings them in a format acceptable to farmers. With this data, we provide the analyzes and recommendations that allow them to make their own management decisions and implement actions on their farms. Farmers can connect to arable land.ag, he is free to get started, and to begin to understand their soil as a living system. Farmers can map their fields, access new data, and work with their local consultant or agronomist to help them interpret the data. We advance the science of farming through transparent and unbiased data systems and empower farmers and their local advisors to optimize the art of farming.
We need to provide more food, in a more sustainable way. At the end of the year, our profits are not measured by performance alone. The benefits are also calculated based on the quality we put on the market, the carbon footprint in which it was produced, the amount of water used and other environmental outcomes. But it must also be profitable for the family farm, and sustainability includes the economic sustainability of a farm. We need to ensure that farmers are empowered to make their own business decisions when implementing regenerative practices. Our network of regenerative farmers and consultants is focused on sharing and learning together. There are around 270 consultants and 1,000 farmers in the TopSoil network today.
What prompted you to develop this solution?
Mitchell: I’m a seventh generation Iowa farmer; my family has farmed in the same county for 150 years. My family has been using regenerative practices since 1978, when we started experimenting with no-till (which helps reduce soil erosion) and have used it ever since, and using cover crops (not grown for profit, but to help improve the soil) since 2013. So we understand how to empower farmers to be successful and change their practices using data, because we have done it ourselves and have helped many other farmers to do so. same. The bottom line is that farmers need to promote sustainability.
I started Continuum Ag as a consulting company to help my family farm and help other local family farms understand soil health and access better data tools to manage their farms. As Continuum Ag grew, I needed better data tools, and we needed a soil health platform, and there wasn’t one available, so we have built ours. Today, other crop and business consultants interested in sustainability need these same data tools. Today, our mission is to help one million farmers benefit from healthy soils.
I started the company in 2015 as a junior at Iowa State University, and my first client was a company in South Africa where I helped manage their soil health data. Since then, we’ve extended the data tools, and today we’ve done business in 40 US states and 12 countries, and now we have a team of 21 people. We want to allow farmers to have independence in the management of their farms by giving them better data.
How will winning an award at the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you move your business forward?
Mitchell: I am delighted that we won the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge to continue showing the world how farmers are ready to tackle global problems and can be part of the solution. We can all work together, from farm to consumer, to solve global problems. Continuum Ag has proven to be a key player in helping farmers succeed and ensuring they successfully adopt regenerative practices. It’s always great to show off the good work that farmers are doing.
Do you know exactly what the prize money will be used for?
Mitchell: Since winning a Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge award, we have hired another full-time agronomist to help us with our solution. We have also hired other software developers and expanded our international team in India.
How has the global pandemic affected your work?
Mitchell: My entire team is remote, so we have already used video conferencing tools. The pandemic has disrupted some of the supply chains when it comes to farmers bringing produce to market. We also weren’t doing a lot of events or going to meetings in person. They’re all virtual now. But those virtual meetings and events probably helped us, especially as a small business with no big travel budget. It works well because I can have a lot more meetings in a day, so I can meet seven companies in one day via virtual meetings instead of only being able to do one or maybe two in person.
Why did you decide to start your own social business rather than working for a business?
Mitchell: I have always been very enterprising. I’ve had different gigs since I was four selling lemonade at the local farmer’s market (still held weekly in the town square and my office is just across the road). My mother, grandmother and aunt regularly sold gardening and baked goods at the market. In high school, I rented land, owned my own hay business, and raised pigs. I started developing a business plan for Continuum Ag during my first year internship at university.
What advice do you give to other social entrepreneurs?
Mitchell: The main thing about being an entrepreneur is that I can bring value the way I want to bring value to others and bring solutions to the world. Being an entrepreneur, or doing anything in life, comes down to what makes you happy. Stay focused on maintaining happiness on a daily basis and bringing value to as many people as possible along the way.