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Peter Wren-Hilton

VIDEO: Unique NZ agritech robotic technology supports US asparagus growers address major labor challenge

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In August 2018, Agritech New Zealand signed a strategic partnership agreement with Western Growers, the largest producers of fresh produce in North America.

A key focus of the agreement was on the #1 challenge facing many US growers of specialty crops. Labor. The lack of and the cost of.

Several specialty crop sectors are under real pressure. Asparagus is one of them. A number of growers have already set up shop south of the border where growing conditions and the availability of labor are conducive to asparagus growing. Speaking to growers in California, it became quickly apparent that unless more automation could be introduced into the field, particularly harvesting, the industry in the US probably had no more than 3 years to survive. Labor issues were so serious that growing asparagus was becoming an uneconomic activity.

I was aware of the work of Professor Mike Duke and a team of researchers at the University of Waikato. They were working on developing a prototype asparagus harvester. A meeting with Mike in Hamilton and calls with Dennis Donohue at the Western Growers Technology and Innovation Center in Salinas, connected the two. Mike travelled to Salinas to meet affected growers and a few weeks later, the Waikato prototype harvester was being trialed on US asparagus grower properties. The University of Waikato’s commercialisation partner, Robotics Plus, supported the initiative. A major template for future engagement had been established.

The video below tells the story of this unique partnership. It demonstrates the significance of the strategic partnership agreement signed last year and provides an insight into how New Zealand agritech technology can help address global challenges. The good news is that not only can we build new channels to global markets, we can also deploy these technologies at home to help New Zealand growers scale their operations.

https://vimeo.com/360661164

We are grateful to New Zealand Trade & Enterprise for supporting the build of the story video.

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.