Agritech NZ founder Peter Wren-Hilton has been working with various agencies over the past 18 months to grow the agritech sector in NZ and is now eyeing international growth opportunities for Agritech New Zealand.
OVER the past two to three years, I have seen firsthand the challenges faced by many farmers, particularly in the dairy sector.
Domestically, increased regulation, additional costs of compliance and frequent negative comments from politicians and media have made life tough for farmers. Throw in covid-19, the threat of increased global tensions and its potential impact on dairy exports, means that 2020 is a year that none of us will forget.
As the founder of Agritech New Zealand, I have also witnessed the flipside.
I’ve seen a number of very significant emerging technologies that are looking to address these ongoing challenges. These include some really exciting opportunities created by improved animal and plant genetics – the major advances in precision farming technologies and the significant increase of investment into innovations designed to improve both on-farm productivity and sustainability.
However, perhaps the biggest single long-term opportunity to emerge in NZ, is the recently launched Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP).
For the past 18 months, I have been working with multiple government agencies to help put together a strategy to help grow the sector. This in itself is an unusual development. Securing cross-agency collaboration on a major industry initiative is rare.
In July, Ministers Damien O’Connor and Phil Twyford formally launched the Agritech ITP with $11.4 million of support funding.
So, what exactly is the Agritech ITP and how will it help NZ’s dairy sector?
To answer this, it helps to understand a little bit more about Agritech New Zealand. We are a non-profit, membership-based industry body that represents a broad cross section of major stakeholders. Our major co-operative members include the likes of Fonterra, Farmlands, LIC, Zespri and Ballance. Other major corporate members include Gallagher, Spark, ANZ and BNZ. Plus many of our major research organisations, AgResearch, Plant & Food Research, Landcare, Lincoln Agritech, the Universities of Auckland, Massey, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago.
With over 160 members from a diverse range of stakeholders, including government, Agritech NZ represents a formidable voice for the country’s agritech sector.
Over these past 18 months, we have put that voice to good use.
Across the country, we have organised industry workshops to identify some of the critical challenges facing the sector.
Government representatives have attended these workshops to get a better understanding of what these challenges mean in practice. This dialogue has led to a fundamental reassessment of how the Government can support the industry’s long-term growth.
Words are easy. Without action however, they mean nothing. So to build an effective structured ITP, we identified several key work streams and three major High Impact projects to build on.
One of the three major High Impact projects with specific relevance to the dairy sector is the Farm2050 Nutrient initiative. This will see multiple field trials taking place across NZ over the next two to three years, featuring disruptive NZ and international nutrient solutions being benchmarked against strict criteria. These will include metrics such as improved plant yield and reduced negative environmental impact.
Farm2050 represents some of the world’s largest agrifood investors, as well as some of the world’s largest agribusinesses. Think Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, Corteva, Nutrien, Mars, PepsiCo – these companies, together with a number of early stage disruptive startups, will be actively involved in these field trials.
Nail this (the effective application and management of nutrients) and one can only imagine the benefit to dairy farmers.
Work on this initiative is currently under way with the core project team being assembled by the Factory in Palmerston North.
Other key challenges identified in the workshops (I prefer to refer to them as opportunities) include:
•Increasing New Zealand Agritech’s global impact
•Improving the commercialisation of NZ Agri-based research
•Attracting more inbound investment
•Aligning data standards and regulation
•Improving all of Government Agritech Support
Each of these challenges have now become formal workstreams. Each workstream is supported by an Industry Reference Group to ensure ongoing industry input into the implementation and delivery of the Plan.
The launch of the Agritech ITP is a hugely positive development. It provides a significant platform to align industry and government thinking.
For NZ’s dairy sector at a time of ongoing uncertainty, this is critical. Building a collaborative framework for future engagement is the only way.