Peter Wren-Hilton

Lessons Learnt in Salinas

Last week, I had the opportunity to represent Agritech New Zealand at two major agtech events in the San Francisco Bay area: The Mixing Bowl IT Food conference in the city and the Forbes Live AgTech Summit in Salinas, Monterey Bay.

In Salinas, I was joined by about 600 other agri innovators, agribusinesses and agri investors. It was good to see Steve Saunders of the Plus Group there, as well as a number of the international delegates who recently visited New Zealand during Techweek18 and attended the ’10 billion mouths’ headline agritech conference in Tauranga.

I’ve visited Salinas several times before. I will be back again next month with an expected 20+ kiwi agritech companies who are taking part in the 2018 Silicon Valley AgTech Immersion Program & Conference. So just what were my biggest takeaways from Forbes Live last week?

The first is that innovation in the agritech sector is growing at an exponential rate, with emerging technologies such as AI taking a serious chunk of both attention and investment. The opportunities that AI offer were a message that resonated during a number of the panel discussions.

The scale of investment was another key learning. US$ 100M investments are now common as new opportunities such as indoor and vertical farming come to the fore.

Plant-based alternative protein players continue to attract investment, but the real riches wait for those working in the cultured meat space. There is a ton of money waiting for evidence of real advances in this sector and no shortage of start-ups globally working to achieve that end.

Two marquees were dedicated to the Forbes Live Innovation Showcase. Early stage companies from a number of countries displayed a range of agritech-focused applications; many were addressing some of the biggest current farmer challenges including labour, water and environment. On the Wednesday morning, I had attended the Thrive Accelerator demo day and met a number of these same entrepreneurs exhibiting in the Showcase Expo.

It was good to catch up with Colin Brown waving the kiwi flag at the TracMap stand. Colin and his team have recently left the Western Growers Technology & Innovation Center to occupy new offices just up the road. As they build their North American market presence, they have outgrown the Center and needed more space to expand. It’s a great tribute to Colin and the team. Still based in the Center were Warren Bebb & Jason Wargent from Biolumic. It was good to learn more about their recent significant funding close. Exciting times ahead for the team as they continue to grow their US footprint.

Next month, I will be joining a new cohort of kiwi agritech entrepreneurs visit the region. We will be meeting the team at Thrive and visiting the WG Technology & Innovation Center. We will also be spending a few hours at Driscoll’s learning not only about some of the technology they deploy to create berry cultivars, but also to listen to several of the same early stage companies pitch their business propositions.

Last week reinforced my strongly held view that New Zealand agri-technology competes with the best. If we simply sit back however and don’t take proactive steps to engage with the wider global market, both ag and investment, then we will never reach our full potential.

Agritech New Zealand’s purpose is to ensure that New Zealand becomes a global leader in science & innovation to benefit the global primary sector. Initiatives that we have planned over the coming weeks and months are designed to help reach that goal. You can read more about them as we publish those details to this site.

Peter Wren-Hilton Peter is Executive Director of Agritech New Zealand and founder of Wharf42 in Tauranga. Peter helps organise major agritech conferences in New Zealand and offshore and connects early stage New Zealand agritech companies with international markets.