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The future of farming is in agritech, says Callaghan Innovation

28 Jun 18

Callaghan Innovation believes New Zealand has a unique opportunity to use the country’s reputation as one of the world’s four key agritech locations to their advantage, even at a time when farming is facing a number of challenges on a global scale.

Callaghan Innovation’s sectors general manager Hemi Rolleston says New Zealand sits right alongside Silicon Valley, Boston, and Amsterdam in terms of being a location to watch for agritech solutions.

This is because of the country’s capabilities in agriculture, our primary export economy, and our natural resources.

“We are also acknowledged for our ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently in a suitably regulated, yet agile private and public innovation ecosystem. We can capitalise on this to turn our $1 billion of agritech exports into a market of many billions,” Rolleston says.

While demand is growing for agritech solutions, many of those products are imported. Rolleston believes New Zealand has the big task of growing our own agritech sector.

This can be done through artificial intelligence, which Callaghan says will have an ‘extreme’ impact in agriculture over the next decade.

The 2018 Fieldays Innovation Awards showcased many agritech success stories, Rolleston notes.

These have included agricultural robotics startup Robotics Plus, which has attracted Yamaha Motor Co. as an investor, and BioLumic, creators of the first ultraviolet crop yield enhancement system, which has raised $5 million in Series A funding.

Rolleston says there are other signs that the industry is picking up.

Callaghan Innovation has engaged with 25% more agritech clients in the past year, and a third of the agritech companies it helped in 2017 were startups. Of the NZ$86 million invested in NZ early stage businesses in 2017, 10 per cent was directed at Agritech businesses, well above the global average.

“New Zealand Inc must continue to find ways to cultivate a continuous agritech startup pipeline, and to encourage agricultural businesses to invest in R&D,” Rolleston urges.

“We’ve always had a number 8 wire culture in farming but it is crucial we power that up with science and technology, particularly in order to keep pace with our international competitors who are investing heavily in agritech innovation.”

The hardest part is knowing where to start, but Rolleston says businesses should investigate support available to them.

Callaghan Innovation has agritech experts working hand-in-hand with firms of all different sizes to develop and protect their technology, commercialise their products, source R&D support, grow their markets and connect into the domestic and global innovation ecosystem.