Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the launch of a new private investment fund with the potential to inject $100 million into small food and agriculture businesses across rural America.

The fund, known as the Open Prairie Rural Opportunities Fund, will be the fourth Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) that USDA has helped to create since 2014, and is part of USDA's ongoing efforts to help attract private sector capital to investment opportunities in rural America to help drive more economic growth in rural communities.

"Like their counterparts in urban areas, innovative small businesses throughout rural America need access to capital in order to grow and create jobs," Vilsack said. "At USDA, we are working hard to reenergize 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."

The Open Prairie Rural Opportunities Fund will invest in companies with high-growth potential across the food and agribusiness value chain and rural America, including those in the crop protection, agricultural production and processing, precision agriculture, and information and data management sectors.

"This fund is unique among other licensed RBICs in that it has broad support from the Farm Credit System, commercial banks and strategic limited partners who care deeply about the success of rural communities," said Patrick Morand, partner and president of Open Prairie.

Open Prairie, founded in 1997 by agribusiness entrepreneur Jim Schultz, is a multi-faceted private equity management firm. With roots in rural America and its headquarters in Effingham, Illinois, Open Prairie has managed fund products for clients ranging from technology-based venture capital to farmland portfolios. A uniting theme among all of Open Prairie's private equity fund efforts has been a focus on growing capital availability in the underserved Midwest.

"The RBIC program is a natural extension of our long term vision," said Open Prairie partner and vice president Jason Wrone. "We live, breathe and believe strongly in rural America and are pleased to be working with USDA, the Farm Credit System and other entities that share our passion for building successful companies that have a meaningful impact on their respective business sectors and the communities in which they do business."

The new fund announced today was formed under the USDA's Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP). USDA is utilizing RBIP to license funds to invest in enterprises that will create growth and job opportunities in rural areas, with an emphasis on smaller enterprises. Last year, Secretary Vilsack announced the conditional approval of two other RBICs – Innova and Meritus Kirchner Capital. In 2014, Advantage Capital was granted a license for their $150 million Advantage Capital AgriBusiness fund.

These efforts are part of the Made in Rural America initiative, which was created by President Obama to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new markets abroad. This announcement today comes in conjunction with the third White House Rural Opportunity Investment Conference in Washington, DC, focused on investing for impact in the rural economy.