Peter Wren-Hilton

New Zealand to take ownership of the global ‘Disruptive Nutrient Technology’ initiative

I have just returned from the US where I spent valuable time with a number of Agritech New Zealand’s key partners in Farm2050. The major purpose of the visit was to discuss our preparation for the 3-year initiative based on identifying disruptive technologies around nutrients.

For context, fertilisers, (nutrients such as N, P, K or Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash and compounds thereof) are one of the single largest input spends in pastoral farming systems. It is estimated less than 50 percent of the immense volume of fertiliser applied in New Zealand and around the world is utilised by the targeted planted crops and fields to which they are applied.  The balance is volatilised or is transmitted into the water table and often from there into steam /river/ estuary systems with negative environmental impacts.

Last week, I sat down with innovation leaders from a number of the world’s largest agribusinesses; Bayer CropScience, Corteva, Syngenta, and Nutrien. We discussed the impact of nutrient application and measurement from two perspectives; plant absorption efficiency and environmental impact. For farmers and growers in New Zealand, both are key metrics. My question and the question raised by others was whether existing practice is fit for purpose. What opportunities are there to test emerging technologies, as well as develop new technologies to address these two critical issues? These questions have become the main drivers for this global initiative.

As Farm2050’s first country partner, New Zealand has a pivotal role to play. We have advanced farming systems and deep domain knowledge. We produce some of the finest agricultural product in the world. Yet our farmers and growers are well aware of the regulatory environment in which they now operate. Consumer concerns about environmental impact, negative media comment and government regulation are all affecting sentiment within the primary sector.

Farm2050’s global nutrient initiative is designed to map talk with action to support our farmers and growers.

What does this mean in practise? As a first step, Farm2050, in conjunction with Agritech New Zealand, will work with New Zealand farmers, leading ag co-operatives and government to establish field trials to test select, emerging nutrient technologies. We plan to engage with New Zealand’s major existing players in this space, as well as early stage agritech companies seeking to address these issues.

There is also great science, often locked up in our universities and crown research institutes. Leveraging these combined assets can help New Zealand’s agritech sector take a global lead in improving both plant absorption efficiency, as well as reducing environmental impact, through the smarter use of nutrients. That was the commitment I made last week to Farm2050’s global agribusiness and venture partners in the US. It was a commitment they agreed to support.

Over the next few weeks, we will be releasing a detailed white paper that will outline now only the key objectives of the initiative but also the steps by which the process will be managed. I am also looking forward to announcing some of the globally recognised team members that will be working with Agritech New Zealand to help scale this initiative in New Zealand.

As New Zealand’s government sets out its targets for reducing carbon emissions and improving water quality, this Farm2050 initiative will go a long way to supporting that ambition. For Agritech New Zealand and its members, it’s a very exciting way to kick off 2019.

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.