Food security was in sharp focus at the recent New Zealand-Ireland agritech online summit thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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Padraig Hennessy, chair of AgTech Ireland, says the time is right for New Zealand and Ireland to work together.

“Irish farmers, even if they’re not arable farmers, they’ve been asked to start planting crops because of food security challenges from the Ukraine war,” says AgriTechNZ chief executive Brendan O’Connell who was in regular contact with his Irish counterparts in the build-up to the summit.

“It became apparent that just because of their position in Europe, the Irish teams and the Irish ecosystem were feeling that a lot harder than we have been in New Zealand.”

The summit was organised to foster collaboration between the two countries, which despite being on opposite sides of the globe, share many similarities, including their pastoral farming.

“They also have similar food systems and reputation, bigger neighbours, a modern outlook with traditional values and the smarts and confidence to impact the world,” O’Connell says.

AgriTechNZ and AgTech Ireland signed a memorandum of understanding to foster collaboration in 2021 and the summit was intended to build on that, with attendance by ministers of agriculture from both countries as well as farmers, scientists and researchers and agritech businesses.

“In New Zealand we recognise we have more work to do on mitigating the impact of our primary sector on the climate, water quality and on biodiversity,” New Zealand Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says.

“No two countries or sectors can face these challenges alone and Ireland and New Zealand are working together to tackle these challenges head-on.”

AgTech Ireland char Padraig Hennessy says the time is right for NZ and Ireland to work together.

“I believe combining our industries in a more cohesive manner will make a world-leading and vibrant agritech sector that can help solve some of agriculture’s biggest challenges.”

Both countries are leaders in developing agricultural technology and both view each other as potential markets but O’Connell argues there are also plentiful opportunities for collaboration.

“None of our agritech businesses in Ireland or New Zealand can be sustained just on their domestic business.

“If you included the other country as sort of a friendly domestic market, both of them have to look at global opportunities and each of them bring a different set of skills and environment to be able to hopefully collaborate together on global market opportunities and challenges.”

O’Connell says that by harnessing counter-seasonal opportunities, technological progress can be sped up.

“It stands there as a real strength when it comes to trying to speed up agritech development when you can trial things twice in one year.”

One of the projects identified in NZ’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan, the Farm 2050 Global Nutrients Project, could also get a counter-seasonal boost, O’Connell says.

There will be four years of trials of nutrient management technology on NZ farms, part of a global project, and speeding up that work by doing some it counter-seasonally in Ireland was discussed at the summit.

“It’s not an easy thing to achieve because you’ve got to line up the business conditions and the relationships so counter seasonal is a really good idea but one that has some challenges to pull off. I guess we’re hoping sessions like ours will help so we can see more of it.”

He says as a result of the summit, which was broken into different concurrent panels, the voice of the farmer, the voice of the planet and the voice of agritech business, new connections have been forged.

“There’ve definitely been meetings and relationships that have either been rejuvenated or kicked off through the summit.

“I’m aware of New Zealand companies that are actively looking at some really exciting business in Ireland and we’ve introduced them into the ag-tech community up there which is interesting because you end up in a competitive and collaborative, a sort of co-opertition space.”

While much of the drive behind agritech development is the need to mitigate the impact of the primary sector on climate, water quality and biodiversity, recent world events have added to its importance, O’Connell says.

“Obviously the merit and the need for addressing environmental and climate challenges remain persistent and urgent and we’ve just added on top of that a food security narrative that wasn’t there before Russia’s invasion.

“Some of this uncertainty is actually driving people to technology solutions to try to hedge against it. Even though we can see insecurities and challenges across farming and other sectors, if anything agritech is seen as a contributor to easing those uncertainties rather than a victim of them.”

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