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Peter Wren-Hilton

What will drive Agritech in New Zealand in 2020?

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As we look into our crystal ball, one thing is certain. 2020 will be a very different to 2019.

We have, of course, 2019 to thank for this. It was the year when a number of major foundations were put in place for the scaling and growth of the country’s agritech sector. Some of the key milestones for Agritech New Zealand included:

  • The vote taken at the Precision Agriculture Association of New Zealand (PAANZ) AGM in November to disestablish itself and join Agritech New Zealand within the NZ Tech Alliance. Agritech New Zealand’s own Executive Council approved the move in December meaning that the country now has a very significant industry body representing both the demand and the supply side of the agritech coin. I look forward to welcoming PAANZ members to our team.
  • The decision by the New Zealand Cabinet in December to support the recommendations made in the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan white paper. This provides a major opportunity for a wide range of government levers to be leveraged to address some of the key challenges and opportunities that the sector collectively faces. By working together, industry and government now have a powerful framework to build on. This will be a major focus for Agritech New Zealand through the year.
  • The increasing depth of global capital being attracted into emerging New Zealand agritech companies. Interest in our sector is growing exponentially as offshore partners get a better understanding of our core capabilities and strengths. Further major offshore delegations in 2020 are designed to increase this level of global connectivity.
  • The launch of the Australia New Zealand Agritech Council at the ANZLF meeting in Auckland in September. This is designed to position the trans-Tasman region as being a key agritech hub in the global market. Expect more news at next month’s evokeAG conference in Melbourne when over 100 kiwi delegates are expected to attend.

As I write this post, it’s hard not to think about the plight of Australian farmers and growers in the ongoing bush fire tragedy. It has brought the impact and reality of ‘climate change’ into sharp focus. I believe this is going to be a key theme for New Zealand’s own primary sector producers through 2020 and beyond.

There are a number of emerging global mega themes. Climate change, more extreme weather events, the environmental impact of agricultural production and the license to operate are some of the most significant. I believe that through 2020, these will be some of the key drivers in terms of agritech innovation and development in New Zealand.

Perhaps some of the most important opportunities for supporting the wider farmer and grower community by the country’s agritech sector are to be found in the provisions of the Zero Carbon Act, passed by Parliament in 2019. These set out the impact of an emissions pricing scheme designed to make New Zealand carbon neutral by 2050.  In supporting legislation, the Emissions Trading Reform Bill, the primary sector is still set to pay for emissions, but not until 2025. The sector will work with Government to come up with its own on-farm pricing scheme, aiming to reduce emissions in the meantime. A review in 2022 would develop the alternative pricing scheme, access the sector’s progress in reducing emissions and consider the barriers it faces. 

Significantly, “If the review finds there isn’t enough progress, the Government can put the agriculture sector into the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) at processor level earlier than 2025”.

From my perspective, this provides two key opportunities for NZ’s wider agritech ecosystem to collaborate together. And here I am looking at four key stakeholder groups: industry, research, producers & government.

The first is to support our primary sector producers by developing the key technologies necessary to reduce emissions and so meet the major targets set out in the legislation. Our farmers and growers have seen enough of the regulation, the media commentary and the negative bile from naysayers. It’s time to come up with the investment and innovation necessary for our key producers to assist them address the issues that they and the rest of the community (urban dwellers included) face around cleaning up our waterways and any other negative environmental impact.

The second, and perhaps much more significant opportunity, is for New Zealand to take a global thought leadership position around climate change and the environmental impact of agricultural production to rapidly scale our major agritech businesses on the international stage. This has to be a core sector goal. It meets the demand and supply side metric. Farmers and growers worldwide need the technology. Our researchers and commercial companies can deliver it.

Over the next 12 months, Agritech New Zealand will be working with the Government’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan taskforce to accelerate some of these opportunities. They meet both an urgent domestic and a global need.

In 2019, Agritech New Zealand helped develop the emerging multi-stakeholder platform. Over the next 12 months, we have the opportunity to assist execute and deliver.

Welcome to 2020!

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.