Should New Zealand and Australia be working more closely together in the agritech space to present a regional offer to the world?
Labour, productivity and sustainability are the most significant global issues in the agriculture sector today, and closed borders have created a “burning platform” for accelerated change, she says.
Callaghan Innovation, the New Zealand Government’s innovation agency, held an Agritech Connector Event for the wine sector in Marlborough last month, bringing together key research, tech and industry players, including the robotics and augmented reality developments of the transdisciplinary MaaraTech Human Assist project and the work behind Pernod Ricard Winemakers’ autonomous tractor Oxin, developed in collaboration with Marlborough-based tech company Smart Machine.
It was also an opportunity for Callaghan to explain the Government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan - launched in July 2020 – around accelerated commercialisation in the agritech space, and the “power of purposeful connection”, says Nicky.
Callaghan’s aspiration is to have tech companies thinking global “from day one”, she adds. “New Zealand understands that it can’t solve these issues on its own and is joining forces globally to accelerate the pace of change.”
New Zealand horticulture technology companies and researchers have been identified as “world-leading”, and it’s clear New Zealand has the capability, expertise and attitude to take a world leadership role,” says Nicky. “But we underate ourselves wildly. We get awesome feedback when we go offshore, but we are not great at telling our story, and we’re not great at getting offshore and pushing ourselves out there.” That means overseas companies with “equal or less technology” get more investment than those here, “because we are not showcasing ourselves in a very good way”.
The answer is to “think about what the global offering is, but work locally to solve it”, she says. “If we look at what is happening in New Zealand we have lots of small companies solving small problems with one grower, and not figuring out how to scale.” The Transformation Plan tries to address that. “Our growers are not tech companies. We need tech companies to be tech companies and growers to do growing, and for them to work really well together, in partnership.”
The agritech events, also being held with other industries in other regions, are also about “cross pollination” between industries and developing technology, she says. “Trying to get the apple industry to see what happens in wine and wine to see what happens in apples.”
Technology will also help industries tackle ongoing imperatives, from climate change and sustainability to creating more high-value, meaningful jobs. “Technology plays a pivotal role in enabling growth in high-value agriculture through targeted agricultural technology and robotic solutions.”