Wednesday, 14 February 2024 16:25

Point of View: The future of technology and innovation in wine

Written by  Tracy Atkin
Tracy Atkin Tracy Atkin

OPINION: The role primary industries play in New Zealand’s economy has changed dramatically in the past 10 years.

Although dairy remains our number one export, the technology sector, including agritech, accounted for $9.8 billion in exports in 2022, with $726 million invested into New Zealand tech firms.

So what role does technology play in the wine industry? And can we be seen as global leaders in vineyard and winery technology, in the same way as we are seen as leaders in world-class wine? From my perspective working with startups in agritech, I believe the New Zealand wine industry has many competitive advantages. So what are they? How do we maximise them to develop and commercialise new technology? And why do we want to?

you work in a winery or a vineyard, over the past two years you would have seen a huge increase in technology solutions available. In vineyards, drones, satellites and new camera technology are used for aerial mapping and spraying, crop management, pest and disease detection, and yield estimation. There are robotic autonomous vehicles, including multi-tasking vineyard tractors, and tech for bird scaring and scouting. There are also innovations for workforce planning, health and safety, compliance, and irrigation management, and plant and soil sensors for water stress measurement and nutrient management.

In the winery, there is new nanotechnology for molecular filtration, enzyme sensors, wine analytics, and fermentation monitoring. Waste recovery technology includes new forms of clean energy, such as creating biofuel from wastewater, biochar from vineyard by-products, or bioplastic bird netting clips made from grape marc. For those who are measuring their carbon footprint and on the road to carbon zero, there’s an array of new software options for carbon accounting and ESG reporting. Many of these new technologies will be on display in the start-up zone at WinePro in Blenheim this June, showcasing the latest emerging innovation in the wine industry.

Much of this technology utilises artificial intelligence and machine learning to convert data to insights. But is so much technology and data generation a good thing, and what are the risks and opportunities? Invention is not innovation until it is commercialised. For technology to be commercialised and adopted at scale, success goes beyond the technology itself. Other factors to consider include:

  • Painkiller vs vitamin - The technology needs to address a significant problem that needs to be solved, a real pain-point (painkiller) rather than a nice-to-have (vitamin).
  • Globally scalable and operational - New technology needs to be designed to be global from day one and scalable for growth. The manufacture, global distribution, servicing and support of new technology are critical elements that need to be considered early on.
  • Customer driven value proposition - Having a potential customer involved early to provide feedback increases the chance that the solution will meet customer needs and be fit-for-purpose. Involving a trial partner, such as a winery, from the Proof-Of-Concept stage ensures there is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ready to be commercialised, and that the technology is not just a solution looking for a problem.
  • Competitive advantages - A customer-led value proposition is likely to result in technology with fewer barriers for adoption. One of the competitive advantages we have as a wine industry is our collegial approach to working with agritech startups during the R&D process and as investment partners. That investment may be in time, expertise and resource, as well as funding. Wineries often provide vineyards for trial sites, staff for expertise, or networks for connections. Our industry research organisations can carry out trials in the vineyard or winery, providing scientific validation to support R&D. In many ways, our small size is an advantage, allowing us to be more agile and collaborative. With many offshore connections, we can also open corridors to other wine regions and potential customers.

Many agritech solutions can be applied to multiple sectors, so technology developed for the wine sector, such as crop management software, can also be applied to other industries, such as apples or cherries, and vice versa. Working with industry bodies such as AgriTech New Zealand, Callaghan, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise can also help form these pan-industry connections – another advantage of our small size.

Over the next five -10 years we will see an increase in the number of technology solutions available. This is an opportunity for the wine industry to position itself as a technology leader, working with technology developers to build and commercialise world-class customer-led innovation for all parts of the wine industry value chain. Together we can address some of the challenges that the speed of innovation and change presents, such as how to turn data into actionable insights, how to bring multiple pieces of technology together, and how to bring multiple disparate sets of data together by addressing data standardisation and interoperability.

Industry partners are the bridge between startup technology and primary industry production in wine. They bring two different perspectives – technology as the enabler, and the customer as the end-user. By getting involved early in the technology lifecycle, and working collaboratively as an industry, this gives us a competitive edge in the development of world-class globally scalable technology.

Applying our pioneering spirit with collaboration and a drive for sustainability will see us well-placed to become leaders in wine industry technology.

Tracy Atkin is Chief Executive of Marlborough Capital. She’s a startup advisor, an angel investor, and Board Chair for Smart Machine, developer of the Oxin autonomous vineyard tractor. Tracy is also an advisor to the WinePro trade event in Blenheim in June.

To check out some of the numbers driving agritech in New Zealand go to nztech.org.nz

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