David Kolsrud

David Kolsrud, founder of Farmers For Innovation, is hoping to take advantage of COVID-19 relief aid and spur economic development in rural areas.

Businessman, farmer looks to change federal rules to spur investment in rural areas

The COIVD-19 pandemic changed the way we do business, and it got one South Dakota businessman and farmer thinking of how it could be an opportunity to change things for the better in farming and rural communities.

“We feel we can be a part of rebuilding America from the Heartland out,” said David Kolsrud, who lives and farms near Brandon, South Dakota.

He created a new venture called Farmers For Innovation, which he’s hoping will give rural America a voice in where the government invests its trillions of stimulus dollars made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Leveraging farm land, he wants to create an investment fund that can support companies focused on ag technology, robotics, clean energy and national security, to name a few.

Kolsrud has experiencing seeking out investors. He got involved in the ethanol industry in 1995, bringing farmers together to invest in Agri-Energy in Luverne, Minnesota. From there, he helped with 17 ethanol plants across the Midwest. After forming DAK Renewable Energy, he worked with two biodiesel plants and a community-owned wind farm. From there, he founded the Funding Farm to invest in start-up companies, the most successful of which is STEM-Fuse, which provides science, technology, engineering and math curriculum at thousands of schools.

It’s an especially good time to invest in the Midwest, according to Kolsrud. The COVID pandemic has shown that many office workers can do business from home. He thinks that will spur urbanites to move away from the city.

“I’ve always had this dream of having a modern day Homestead Act that would spread people out and create jobs in the Midwest. Never did I think we’d see such a dramatic change in a short period of time,” he said.

Small towns could use the economic boost, he said: “There’s an empty Shopko store in every other town that we could use for starting businesses.”

The pandemic also drew attention to American’s weak supply chains, Kolsrud said. When employees at meat packing plants came down with COVID and operations shutdown, livestock producers were left with nowhere to take their cattle and hogs. Consolidation in the meat packing industry is a problem, he said, and it would help to have more community-owned and producer-owned processing facilities.

“That has been magnified these last three months,” he said. “The livestock producer was in the brunt of this. Prices collapsed overnight.”

He’s also concerned with ag technology and seed genetics in the hands of foreign companies. He sees opportunity in value added processing and aquaculture in the Midwest.

That’s where Farmers For Innovation comes in. He’s asking people to support his movement by signing up online at www.farmersforinnovation.net. With a network of farmers, Kolsrud is hoping to show there’s support for investing in the Midwest.

That might take changing some of the rules associated with CARES money. Kolsrud wants to eliminate accredited investor requirements where a person’s net worth must be more than $1 million to take advantage of the funding.

“These programs, in my opinion, are geared toward Wall Street for the benefit of Wall Street,” he said.

With access to the same benefits, Kolsrud said he believes innovative ideas will come out and get people back to work.

“Let people decide if they want to invest in these projects,” Kolsrud added. “People in the Midwest are creative.”

Janelle is editor of the Tri-State Neighbor, covering South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota, northwestern Iowa and northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at jatyeo@tristateneighbor.com or follow on Twitter @JLNeighbor