Ag innovation contest draws interest

Published 10:26 am Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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Farmers and rural entrepreneurs can win up to $30,000 through a competition sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability.

Applications for the second annual 2023 Agricultural and Forestry Innovation Challenge, also known as the “Bull Pen,” are now being accepted. The competition offers businesses the chance to showcase ideas or products that could benefit Virginia’s agriculture and forestry sectors.

“The Bull Pen contest provides a platform to help contestants develop and promote their enterprise proposals, expose their plans to professional review and critique, and compete for cash prizes that are intended to help fund their projects,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, of which VA FAIRS is an affiliate.

The contest also boosts public exposure for contestants and their businesses, offers networking opportunities with experienced judges and audience members, and helps rural entrepreneurs obtain project funding to advance their business or idea.

“We see this as an opportunity for all applicants to practice promoting themselves and their businesses,” Banks said.

Contestants will compete for up to $30,000 in total cash prizes. Up to five finalists will receive $2,500 each, a runner-up will receive $5,000 and the contest winner will take home $10,000. A People’s Choice Award winner will receive $2,500.

VA FAIRS will select up to five finalists to compete in two in-person judging rounds Nov. 27 and 28 during the 2023 VFBF Annual Convention. The final round will be held in front of an audience at the event, and winners will be announced on Nov. 28.

Last year’s first-place winner was Seven Hills Food Co., runner-up was Agricision, Inc., and Smoke in Chimneys received the People’s Choice Award.

Ty Walker, owner of Smoke in Chimneys, said the competition was “our best team-building exercise of the year” and encourages fellow farmers and rural entrepreneurs to apply.

The application deadline for the 2023 BullPen contest is 11:59 p.m. Sept. 15.

To enter, applicants must register for a free account, visit and click the 2023 Bullpen Application button to submit an application package. Complete packages must include an application form, video pitch, photo of the applicant’s business and a completed IRS Form W-9.