Entrepreneurs in food and agricultural businesses can apply now to win a share of $145,000 in startup funds through the American Farm Bureau Federation’s fourth Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The competition provides an opportunity to showcase ideas and business innovations that benefit rural regions of the United States. Organizers say it is the first national rural business competition focused exclusively on innovative entrepreneurs working on food and agriculture businesses.

Competitors are invited to submit ideas for appropriate for-profit businesses at www.strongruralamerica.com/challenge.

Businesses related to food and agriculture include farms or ranches, value-added food processing, food hubs, community-supported agriculture programs, farm-to-table restaurants, farmers’ markets and craft beverage startups. Eligible businesses can also support food and agriculture, such as crop scouting, agritourism, ag advertising agencies and ag technology companies.

“Rural entrepreneurs typically face hurdles that make it challenging to develop successful businesses, including lack of capital, business networks and business training,” said Dr. Lisa Benson, AFBF’s director of rural development. “Through the challenge, we’re helping food and agricultural entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.”

Applications, which include a business plan, video pitch and photo, must be submitted online by June 30. Judges will review the applications and provide feedback to the participants.

The top 10 teams, to be announced in October, will be offered the opportunity to pitch to multimillion-dollar investors, in addition to receiving education about venture capital and expanding their businesses.

New this year, six best-in-show winners will each be awarded $10,000 in startup funds for the best start-ups in these categories:

– Farm – farms, ranches, hydroponics, aquaponics, greenhouse production, forestry, etc.

– Agritourism – farm-to-school programs, pumpkin festivals, farm stays, etc.

– Farm-to-Table – CSAs, food hubs, farmers’ markets

– Ag Tech & Support Services – hardware, software and support services (marketing programs, scouting services and other services targeting farmers)

– Craft Beverage – including breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries

– Local Product – food and non-food products

The final four teams will compete in a live competition at AFBF’s 99th annual convention in Nashville on Jan. 7 to win these prizes:

– Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year award and $30,000 (chosen by judges)

– People’s Choice award and $25,000 (chosen by public vote)

– First runner-up, $15,000

– Second runner-up, $15,000

The Entrepreneur of the Year award and the People’s Choice award will be awarded to two different teams. The team that wins the Entrepreneur of the Year award will not be eligible for the People’s Choice Award.

The competition timeline, detailed eligibility guidelines and profiles of past winners are available at www.strongruralamerica.com/challenge.