ROCHESTER — Cornell University is administering the state’s first food and agriculture business competition, expected to be one of the largest in the nation, and with a top prize of $1 million.

Geneva-based Cornell AgriTech and the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture are among the Cornell programs assisting in the Grow-NY competition, launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to develop innovative, high-growth startups in food and agriculture.

“New York’s agricultural industry is one of the best in world, and the Grow-NY competition will attract innovative startups focused on this industry to put down roots in upstate New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By bringing in new companies to find new ways to transform our state’s food and agricultural industry, we are continuing to bolster these regional economies and foster growth in this critical industry statewide.”

According to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, more than 7 million acres of New York — or about 20 percent of the state’s land — is farmland.

The nearly 36,000 family farms have helped the state rank No. 2 nationally in the production of apples, snap beans and maple syrup, and in the top 10 in 30 commodities overall.

The goal of the competition is to encourage greater growth in those markets.

“We are committed to fostering innovative ideas, boosting job growth, and promoting our farms and agricultural products that will further strengthen the economy,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The competition, launched May 31 at the LiDestri Innovation Center in Rochester, will run from 2019 to 2021, with $3 million in awards distributed each year, including a $1 million award, two $500,000 awards and four $250,000 awards.

Mentorship, incubator space and other services, will be provided to support the startups, Cuomo said.

The three regions that are part of the Grow-NY initiative are the Finger Lakes, central New York and Southern Tier. Winning companies will be required to operate in the regions for at least one year and execute what the state called “bold plans to grow jobs, connect with local partners and contribute to a thriving upstate economy.”

Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, calls Grow-NY “a tremendous opportunity to fuel growth in New York’s farm and food economy through spurring innovation across our local food systems. By supporting entrepreneurship, the Finger Lakes, central and Southern Tier regions of New York can drive creation and sale of delicious and healthy local food products to meet the changing tastes of consumers and help New York lead the way as an innovation hub in the local food movement.”

Tom Schryver, director of Cornell University’s Center of Regional Economic Advancement, said in a video promoting the competition that the region is the “epicenter” for food and agricultural technology, pointing to Cornell University, considered one of the top five colleges in the world for agricultural studies and research.

“Food and ag tech is a huge part of our overall economy,” he said. “Feed people — you don’t get much more fundamental than that. Here in upstate New York, we’re 500 miles from over 100 hungry people who need to get fed. And how we feed them has impacts on the economy” the environment and our way of life.

Funding for Grow-NY will be provided through Empire State Development and the Upstate Revitalization Initiative organization connected with each of the three regions — Finger Lakes Forward, CNY Rising and Southern Tier Soaring.

Applications for the 2019 competition will be accepted through July 15. A panel of industry judges will trim the applications down to a group of up to 20 finalists, who will receive mentorship and a complimentary business-development trip spanning the three regions this summer.

Competition finalists will present their business pitches at the Grow-NY Food and Ag Summit, Nov. 12 to 13 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The summit will also include an awards ceremony announcing the winners, a symposium hosted by the Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture and an exhibition featuring more than 100 innovative food and ag businesses and industry resources.

Visit the Grow-NY website, https://bit.ly/2WDMacM, to learn more.

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