Students create prize for agriculture innovation

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Students and fans of agriculture innovation have a new goal for which to aim. The University of Wisconsin – Madison, in conjunction with the Agriculture Department and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, announced Oct. 2 the Agriculture Innovation Prize: Powered by 40 Chances.

The prize is student-led and focused, and awards more than $200,000 in cash prizes to the best business ideas to address agricultural issues such as food scarcity, transportation and sustainability.

The award is available for any student in higher education, and aims to connect young people with people within agriculture societies, nonprofits and companies. According to a 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average age of a farmer is 57.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in its 2012 report to the president on agricultural issues there is a need for “a new innovation ecosystem for agriculture.” The students who created the prize cited the report as an inspiration.

According to USDA, for the past two years the populations of rural and small-town areas have been declining, leaving some to wonder about the future of farming in the United States. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population claims farming as an occupation, according to USDA. Farm expenses average more than $100,000 a year, much more than the average income of a family farm.

The government hopes to cultivate the innovation to battle growing problems in the agricultural field like droughts, new pests and nutrition concerns. In addition, it hopes new businesses with be cultivated from the young innovators in the future.

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