Washington Evening Journal
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Washington ag business earns state money
WASHINGTON — Regenerative agriculture consulting company Continuum Ag was among three winners of a low-interest loan from the Iowa Economic Development Authority announced last week, part of the agency’s State Small Business Credit Initiative. The program uses federal aid to “assist entrepreneurs through concept, launch and expansion,” according to a state news release.
The business will receive a $250,000 loan, which Continuum Ag President and CEO Mitchell Hora said would be spent on development for the business’s carbon intensity scoring software at Topsoil.ag, which helps farmers quantify their carbon footprint.
With more development, Hora said the app would give users better recommendations to lower their footprint, use machine learning to automate the service, and help users verify their carbon scores.
“It’s becoming really important for the renewable fuels industry and for new tax credits that were bolstered up with the inflation reduction act,” he said. “Making sure that the farmers in Iowa and beyond have the data to really leverage the opportunities that carbon intensity can bring to their operation … it helped them to tell their story in a quantifiable manner.”
The carbon score is a metric established by the U.S. Department of Energy which has risen to prominence in recent years. Hora said his program made the number accessible to farmers by “reverse engineering the scoring system,” which can be improved with no-till practices, cover crops, reduced fuel usage and reduced synthetic fertilizer use, according to Hora.
While the business already has an app for that, Hora said the investment would allow his team to improve the program. If all goes according to plan, he said the first round of new features were set to launch June 1, with more coming over the next year.
“It’s figuring out what things we need to build, doing the research on the data tools and things that we need to integrate, design, and then the actual coding to be able to launch features,” he said. “We’re looking at potentially expanding our team out, to be able to build faster. It gives us more runway.”
The company is also likely to hire customer support personnel, according to Hora, who said the software’s inherent complexity would make them a hot commodity.
“Helping farmers utilize technology can be kind of a heavy lift,” Hora said. “We’re talking about a lot of data, farmers are very busy, they have a lot going on. And we want to make sure that it’s as simple as possible, and having out customer success team helping that farmer to be successful has really been a crucial thing.”
Earning the loan was no small feat. Hora’s business is one of just three in the state announced as recipients for this round of funding; The others are a subscription-based produce retailer in Ames and a pharmaceutical data provider in Iowa City.
Hora said the application process involved business planning, paperwork, a two-hour pitch meeting with a panel of industry experts, and another panel meeting with the program’s recommendation board.
“It’s a multi-month process, and a lot of rigor,” he said. “Because these are taxpayer dollars here, and we need to be sure that these taxpayer dollars are deployed correctly … there’s a lot of work that goes into it, and we need to show matching funds of at least $250,000.”