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Peter Wren-Hilton

Building a collaborative New Zealand agritech framework with the UK

24 hours ago, the UK Parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit ‘deal’ with the European Union. A few hours later, I sat down with Laura Clarke, the British High CommissionertoNew Zealand and her team at the British Consulate in Auckland. The business of business goes on.

Whatever the final outcome of the Brexit story, the need to produce more nutritious food sustainably is as important in Britain as it is in New Zealand. Sustainability in this instance has two meanings. Sustainability for the environment and sustainability for producers’ incomes to continue farming.

In March, a delegation from Innovate UK will be visiting the country to learn more about ruminant livestock and some aspects of our horticulture sector. The delegation will be visiting Central District Fieldays in Palmerston North and will be using their time here to speak to industry representatives and NZ government agencies.

In June, the UK DIT (Department of International Trade) is planning to bring a large delegation of agritech-related businesses over to National Fieldays at Mystery Creek. Yesterday, we discussed areas of common interest to help identify New Zealand farmer & growers needs. Could some of these inbound companies provide solutions to address these? It is clear that the UK has undertaken some significant research into our sector. Identifying potential synergies was a key theme for the meeting.

One underlying challenge facing UK farmers is the future of subsidies. For a number of years, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has supported farming sectors across Europe with subsidies. CAP is no small potatoes (pardon the pun). It accounts for about 38% of the entire EU budget. Given New Zealand’s decision to abolish all farming subsidies back in 1984, the UK is keen to learn from some of the hard lessons learnt here. This discussion provides on-going and future opportunities for New Zealand’s agritech sector; these can be significant.

For some context here, last month I attended the Agtech Nexus Europe conference in Dublin. There, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, provided an insight into some future thinking of such funding. It was clear that whether the UK is inside or outside the EU, the level of CAP subsidies, going forward, is going to drop. This will therefore remain an underlying challenge for UK (and EU) farmers and an opportunity for some of the innovation, technology & IP that New Zealand’s agritech sector has developed.

The discussions with the team at UK DIT are ongoing. We are looking at ways in which we can build a collaborative framework that will not only support our respective agritech sectors, but also provide NZ & UK farmers and growers with the tools necessary to produce more nutritious food sustainably.

The key takeaway I took away from yesterday’s meeting is that the UK is still open for business. Whilst politicians in Westminster will no doubt prove to be a distraction over the coming weeks, and perhaps months, the needs of UK farmers will not change.

A bilateral approach can help address these and the time to act is now. Yesterday’s meeting was just one step in that process. The business of business goes on.

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.