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Open Prairie to manage $100m rural investment fund

The USDA has licensed the fund to receive equity investment from the US Farm Credit System to invest in small food and agri businesses.

Open Prairie Ventures and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have launched a fund to invest up to $100 million in small food and agriculture businesses in the rural US.

Open Prairie Ventures, an early stage investor in agriculture, life science and information technology, with a focus on the US Midwest, will manage the Open Prairie Rural Opportunities Fund. The firm manages Open Prairie Ventures I, II & III, and the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund, according to PEI Research & Analytics.

The fund is licensed as a Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) by the USDA. This allows the fund to raise equity financing through the Farm Credit System, a network of borrower-owned US banks that provide credit to farmers and other rural borrowers. As part of the terms of the program more than half of the fund’s investment capital must go to small businesses.

“Like their counterparts in urban areas, innovative small businesses throughout rural America need access to capital in order to grow and create jobs,” US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “At USDA, we are working hard to re-energise the rural economy, and we are enlisting more and more private sector partners to help achieve that goal. Open Prairie has been a great partner in this effort.”

Open Prairie’s management team includes former chairman of the US Farm Credit administration, Leland Strom, and former Chairman of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Jim Schultz, who founded Open Prairie Ventures in 1997. Both men are former members of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Agriculture, Labor and Small Business.

The fund is the fourth to receive RBIC licensing since introduction of the programme in 2014. Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners, with $150 million in committed funds from Farmer Credit institutions was the first licensed RBIC. Innova and Meritus Kirchner Capital received conditional RBIC approval from the USDA.